Zane’s Trace, the first Federally funded road through frontier Ohio, ran from Wheeling, in modern-day West Virginia, across the Hocking, Muskingum, and Scioto Valleys, to Limestone, (now Maysville), Kentucky on the Ohio River. Authorized by Congress in 1796, Zane’s Trace was first just a tomahawk blazed trail, accessible to foot and horse traffic. After statehood in 1803, the road would be widened and improved so that by 1804 it was a twenty-foot wide wagon road, upon which thousands of pioneer families headed west. By then Zane’s Trace was dotted with taverns, or inns, about every six miles or so, where travelers could put a roof over their heads, feed and shoe their horses, and enjoy a dinner or breakfast.
Trace historian Norris F. Schneider estimated, “that in the half century before the first railroads steamed across Ohio in the 1850’s, approximately three hundred taverns accommodated travelers on the Zane’s Trace route.” Few of these remain today. But back in the 1830s, when stage coach operations carried passengers through the Scioto Valley, Zane’s Trace resembled a pioneer version of a modern-day interstate highway, one that connected Kentucky and Ohio with the broader Atlantic World.
Native son, Judge Albion Z. Blair, the noted Progressive Era reformer who gained national fame for ending corrupt election practices in Adams County, once explained the significance of Zane’s Trace in the development of the region’s political life. “In those early pioneer days,” explained Blair, “the great political leaders from the South and West went to and from the National Capital in attending the session of Congress by stage coach, traveling through Adams County by Zane’s Trace. There was located along this trace certain taverns or inns at which these noted men would stop and spend the night when on their journey. One of these, Treber’s Tavern, still standing, was located down in Adams County, and was famous, made so from the fact that Mrs. Treber, the landlady, was a famous biscuit baker. The fame of her baking was known to the travelers using this route to the National Capital, and they all sought to make it a point to so arrange their starting that they would stay over night at Treber’s Tavern. The country folks knew of the times when these great men would be at this hostelry, and they would gather in for miles around and have a great political rally.”
Judge Blair recalled that his “father and other men used to tell us boys about these rallies; about the speeches of Tom Benton, Henry Clay, and other like worthies. Men and boys who had been born amidst poverty and privations, who had gone through the school of hard knocks, at these great political rallies would hear the story of the struggle of political leaders in early life and the efforts they had put forth to attain the places that they held in public life. These men and boys went home from these meetings instilled with an ambition that the younger men of that country should attain something in life. The boys saw these men, saw they looked just like other men, and learned from them the story of their lives; that their attainments had been accomplished by labor, and resolved that they, too, would do something and be something as men.”
In addition to Clay and Benton, other accounts of famous visitors to Treber Inn include General Andrew Jackson and his entourage, who made a stop in 1828, while on their way to Washington for Jackson’s first presidential inauguration.
According to Judge Blair, the frequent visits of such men helped instill the people of Adams County with a faith in the “Self-Made Man,” a term that Henry Clay is generally credited with popularizing in 1832, during a speech in support of a protective tariff. In the words of historian Richard Hofstadter, “Denying that the tariff would give rise to a hereditary industrial aristocracy, Clay maintained, to the contrary, that nothing could be more democratic; it would give further opportunities for men to rise from obscurity to affluence.” On the Senate floor, he told the American people: “In Kentucky, almost every manufactory known to me is in the hands of enterprising and self-made men, who have acquired whatever wealth they possess by patient and diligent labor.’”
The porch and yard of Treber Inn became a stage upon which America’s self-proclaimed, “Self-Made Men,” championed the principles and legislative agendas of the two major political parties of the antebellum years, the Democrat and Whig Parties. Historian Robert Remini once noted that “The ‘rags to riches’ notion that Americans have enjoyed ever since the early nineteenth century was studiously cultivated by Clay and his early biographers in the belief that such a myth added to his stature and attractiveness.” When speaking before crowds gathered at Treber Inn there is little doubt that Clay attempted to cast himself in such light, and, according to Judge Blair, it is a myth that inspired the young boys and men of Adams County to work hard and make something of themselves.
William Firestone, author of “Grandeur & Grace: Building America from the Ground Up, 1784-1860,” has written the most recent account of Treber’s Inn, and, as he tells it, “Gunsmith John Treber was born in Maryland in about 1754. In 1796 he built a log cabin on Lick Fork of Ohio Brush Creek in what would soon be Adams County, Ohio. Two years later he erected the two-story log structure, later known as the Treber Inn, on the west bank of Lick Fork, about five miles northeast of West Union, the county seat. …. The two-story section of the inn was built of handhewn logs which were later covered by clapboards. The single-story kitchen and dining room wing at the rear is of stone from a nearby quarry. Soon after the inn opened for business, a sign swinging from a tall post along the road announced “Traveler’s Entertainment.”
John Treber retired in 1825 to a nearby farm, whereupon his son, Jacob Treber, took over the inn and ran it with his wife, Jane Thoroman Treber, the famous biscuit baker, who was also noted for brewing a “most excellent coffee.”
Visit Treber Inn on the Old Zane’s Trace, modern-day Ohio State Route 41, in the heart of historic Adams County. Consider the legend of the Self-Made Man and its role in the history of American politics. Check out the Treber Family cemetery, located nearby, where the pioneer family of John Treber is buried.
“Corrupt Election Practices in Adams County, Ohio: Address Delivered before the Conference of the National Popular Government League, held at Washington, D. C., on January 5 and 6, 1917, by Judge A. Z. Blair,” 64th Congress, 2d Session, Senate Document No. 723 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1917).
Nelson W. Evans and Emmons Buchanon Stivers, A History of Adams County, Ohio: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time (1900).
William Firestone, Grandeur & Grace: Building America from the Ground Up, 1784-1860 (Yellow Springs, Ohio: Red Eft Media, 2009).
Richard Hoftsadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Random House Digital, Inc., 2012).
Robert Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (W. W. Norton & Company, 1993).
Norris F. Schneider, “Taverns on Zane’s Trace,” Third Annual Zane’s Trace Commemoration, Official Souvenir Booklet (Zanesville, Ohio, 1975).
Andrew Lee Feight, Ph.D., is a Professor of American History and Coordinator of the History and Appalachian Studies programs at Shawnee State University. As Director of the Shawnee Digital History Lab, he is the founding editor and developer of the Scioto Historical mobile app and website, a public history project that explores the history of Portsmouth, Ohio, and the surrounding Appalachian region. Visit sciotohistorical.org to continue your exploration of Portsmouth and Ohio’s Little Smokies.