After my last post, I found myself very curious about how the Muskingum Courthouse as Zanesville citizens know today came to be. As the city of Zanesville grew so did the Muskingum County Courthouse. From its humble beginnings in a tavern, becoming a state capitol building for a short time, and finally becoming a beautiful building that all of Zanesville can be proud of, the Muskingum County Courthouse shows the growth of Zanesville, Ohio, and America through its evolution as central public building in Muskingum County.
In 1804, before the first courthouse was built in Muskingum County, court was held in Harvey’s tavern and later grew in other cabins when files, offices, and other court duties could not be contained in the tavern. This changed when two men were accused of counterfeiting. John McIntire and Daniel Convers, two of the most prominent men in Zanesville at the time, were in charge of guarding them. Without a proper jail in which to hold the men, McIntire had to resort to threatening the two to stay in the tavern with an axe. This experience allowed Zanesville to realize that a jail was needed to give adequate justice to criminals who violate the law without having John McIntire, the founder of the town, threaten the accused with an axe. This two floor jail was built in 1807 out of logs and had an upper floor as a debtor jail and the ground floor as a criminal jail. The next year county commissioners built a two-story addition to this building for court hearings.
The very next year, 1809, Zanesville decided to build an even bigger court in front of the one that was only two years old. In 1808, the Ohio legislature was looking to relocate from Chillicothe to a more central space in Ohio. Zanesville decided to try to persuade the capital to move to Zanesville by building this courthouse to hold sessions of the Ohio legislature in. McIntire and other prominent Zanevillians used their contacts and put in the Ohio legislature to from Chillicothe to Zanesville. The legislature caved in to pressure and on October 1, 1810, the Capital of Ohio was Zanesville. Unfortunately the next day a committee was formed to find a more central state location no more than 40 miles away from the geological center of the state, and Columbus was selected for the honor in 1812.
While Zanesville was building its own legislature building to secure itself the title of State Capital, it did have a competition from other cities in Ohio. The closet geologically to Zanesville was its neighbor Putnam. Dr. Increase Mathew and the small town of Putnam built their own legislature building to complete with Zanesville, The Stone Academy. After Putnam loss the State Capital bid in 1809, it still served the Putnam community. The Academy became the meeting place for various educational, political, and religious groups. This building was converted into a private home in 1840 and was used this way until 1983, when the last owner left the Academy in her will to The Pioneer and Historical Society of Muskingum County in 1983. This building was also used heavily in the 1830’s as abolitionist meeting place and as a stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves who were escaping slavery in the South.
When the second Muskingum Courthouse, known to many as Old 1809, fell into disrepair in the late 1860’s, many thought that it was time to build a new courthouse. Zanesillvians, however, could not make up their minds about where to put the new courthouse. Newspaper editorials from this time show how divided the people of Zanesville were when it came to the new courthouse’s design, which work crews to hire, and most importantly the location of the courthouse. In the New Courier, a reader in favor of a Putnam on April 3, 1872 wrote, “It (Putnam) is away from the noise and confusion of the business part of the city, and is altogether a desirable location.” An opposing reader, who called himself “A Tax Payer,” wanted the courthouse to be in the center of the action: “McIntire Park would be good if moved over the river and located where the courthouse now is…. In ten years at the present rate of increase, it would be in the center of the city.” Zanesville’s commissioners, however, decided that on top of the old courthouse was the most cost productive and cost effective location for the new courthouse and it neither hurt nor helped one part of town due to the fact that the courthouse still stood in the same location.
Third Courthouse Today: The third and current courthouse was completed in 1876. The only part of “Old 1809” that remains is its date stone that hung above the old courthouse doorway. This courthouse has stood for more than 100 years and has seen Zanesville and America grow. This courthouse has stood against the great Ohio flood of 1913, the creation of 13 new states, the Great Depression, and two great wars.