Zane Grey National Road Museum

Admission to the Zane Grey National Road Museum is $7 for adults and $3 for students.

  • Open: May 1 – October 31 Wednesday – Saturday from 10am – 4pm and Sunday from 1-4pm
  • Location: (Map It) 8850 East Pike in Norwich, Ohio
  • Phone: 740-872-3143 or 800-752-2602
  • Web: www.ohionationalroad.org/

The Zane Grey National Road Museum:
This excerpt is from a past edition of OhioTraveler

There’s an anecdote about Zanesville recalled from far back in childhood: A tourist in town asked for directions and was told to go to the middle of the bridge and turn left. He was also informed that he could cross the bridge and still be on the same side of the river. Each statement as preposterous as the other, yet both true. As well as the only Y-bridge in the world, Zanesville is also known as the center of the pottery industry. At one time there were 41 potteries in Muskingum County producing millions of artifacts, a few of which show up on Antiques Roadshow and fetch exorbitant prices.

But those anomalies pale in comparison to the literary accomplishments of the city’s favorite son. Zane Grey’s book sales have exceeded forty million copies of nearly ninety novels; too many to be published in his lifetime.  Twenty-five were produced posthumously and reprints of his work continue to this day, seventy years after his death.

Born Pearl Zane Gray in 1872, he grew up in Zanesville, a town founded by his maternal ancestors. His father, a dentist, disapproved of nearly everything his son found rewarding.  The fourth of five children, Pearl Zane was acknowledged in early childhood as complex.  He was never inclined toward academics, yet was a voracious reader, especially of Revolutionary and Western history.

A gifted athlete, his other interests were baseball, fishing and brawling—the latter intensified by a testy personality and a short fuse. Of course, with a name like Pearl, a boy had better be able to fight.

Grey wrote his first story at age fifteen, but his father ripped it to shreds and beat him severely. It was his mentor, an old gent named Muddy Miser who encouraged him to pursue his natural instincts while his father insisted he learn dentistry—which he detested, though the training was prescient in an odd way.

In 1889 the Grays suffered a financial setback that hastened a move to Columbus and a change of the last name to Grey. Assisting monetarily, Pearl Zane made unlicensed house calls extracting teeth—until the state board caught up with him. Fortunately he also caught the attention of a baseball scout, resulting in numerous college scholarship offers.

His study habits at the University of Pennsylvania were reflective of earlier patterns, spending most of his time at baseball, creative writing and womanizing, all of which had priority over curriculum. With minimal scholastic accomplishment he graduated in 1896 and opened a dental practice in New York City—at once and permanently dropping his first name.

The location was a poor choice in view of the competition, but New York was the publishing capital and writing had become his passion—tempered with offers from professional baseball. Dentistry was merely a means to an end.

Nine years later and still foundering, he married Lina Roth whom he called Dolly. Eleven years his junior, she became his greatest asset. Her confidence and natural ability as an editor, along with an inheritance, allowed him to abandon the dental charade forever.

His first book, Betty Zane, a thinly disguised biography of a direct aunt and Revolutionary War heroine, was turned down by numerous publishers, but won acclaim after being self published with Dolly’s endowment. Three of his first four books were Indian-fighting pioneer stories of the Ohio Valley, but Zane Grey became best known for his Western fables that were first serialized in Harper’s Magazine.

His style generated a huge network of fans that eagerly awaited new publications that appeared like clockwork. But due to envy no doubt, the critics were as ravenous as his admirers. They alleged his depictions of the West were too fanciful as well as overly violent—his characters unrealistically larger than life. But in truth Grey relied on personal experience, scrupulous note taking and photography. All of his works were categorized as fiction, yet were based on people and situations he had experienced first-hand, punctuated with authentic dialogue.

Unknown and unfathomable to his devotees was the fact that Grey fought serious bouts of depression all his life, with long unproductive spells. “Realism,” he said “is death to me. I cannot stand life as it is.” He often left his wife and three children for weeks or months to go on adventurous excursions, and spend time with mistresses that calmed his demons.

When he returned he would have a new story and frequently pounded out a complete book is two or three months. Attesting to his versatility and proficiency he interspersed the Westerns with two hunting books, two baseball books, and eight fishing books.

The road to success had been excruciatingly long and convoluted, but the deferred arrival seemed to contain momentum that once freed was unstoppable. Grey became one of the first millionaire authors, and Hollywood developed a lust for his flair that exceeded book publishers.  In 1918 he moved his family to Altadena, California to be closer to the movie industry.

At one time Grey owned his own motion picture company which allowed faithfulness to his books to the degree of filming on the authentic locations he had described. Eventually he sold the company and remained as a consultant, but became disillusioned with the film industry over the dilution of his stories and characters. It was no doubt charitable to his conscience that many of Hollywood’s adaptations came after his death.

Even so, he is credited with 110 films, one TV episode, The Zane Grey Show, and a series, Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater, which ran for five years based on his novels and short stories.

Zane Grey died in 1939 perfecting an exercise he loved as much as writing—the casting of his fly rod—off the porch of his California home.

It’s not surprising that several domains sought to declare him as their own. Of course the city named as a derivative of his ancestral surname, and known more for Zane Grey than he for it, will always pay tribute. Curiously the archives are not in Zanesville, but in Norwich, ten miles east on Rt. 40. The National Road Zane Grey Museum honors not only the author, but also the area’s pottery industry and the forging of the “Main Street to the West” that shares Grey’s famous theme.

Whether coming or going, you will want to traverse Zanesville’s legendary Y-bridge located on the Rt. 40 main thoroughfare, but vigilance is required at the middle—where the unexpected has been known to alter and sometimes add a new dimension to the journey.

Go to www.ohiohistory.org/places or call 800-752-2602 for more information about the Zane Grey National Road Museum.

By Robert Carpenter