Environmental Factors on Settlement in Zanesville

Ohio’s landscape, created by glacial activity during the Ice Age, varies greatly across the state. There are separate areas based on two subregions that Ohio straddles: the Appalachian Plateau in the east and the Central Lowlands in the west. The city of Zanesville, shown in the image below as the black dot, is set within the Appalachian Plateau subregion of Ohio.


This map shows the two different subregions, where Zanesville is in relation to these subregions, and gives a general idea of how Ohio is a diverse state geographically.

The reason for the strong contrast between the levels of the land in Ohio is due to the regional uplift during the Paleozoic Era. This uplift, attributed to the formation of the Appalachian Mountains, caused Ohio to rise above sea level while multiple valleys formed which exposed areas of limestone and shale. Zanesville is a mainly flat area considered a part of the ecoregion known as Western Allegheny Plateau within the Appalachian Plateau. As Europeans began to arrive in North America, their push westward across the Appalachian Mountains led them to discover Ohio. The settlement of the Appalachian Plateau ultimately led to the founding of Zanesville in the late 18th century. When the Zanesville area was first settled in the early to mid 18th century, much of the land became farmland for the European settlers. Geographically, had the land not been as flat around Zanesville then the Europeans may not have decided to settle there and farm for a long period. The gradual drop in the level of the land in the area around Zanesville is due to the town being so close to the Muskingum River. The following two maps show the relationship between the topography and the rivers in Ohio.


With Zanesville again represented by the black dot, it is plain to see that the city resides near the Muskingum River and is relatively close to the Licking River.


The comparison of this map showing elevation of the land in Ohio to the previous map demonstrates how Zanesville (white dot) is lower than the elevated lands around it due to it being in a type of river valley.

This relationship of water and elevation shows that Zanesville was in one of the perfect areas to farm as it was near rivers for irrigation and relatively flat compared to other parts of the Appalachian Plateau (or Western Allegheny Plateau to be more specific to Zanesville). The soil around Zanesville provided rich nutrients for the farming life that Europeans survived on during the early settlement period. The richness of the soil near Zanesville was only possible because it is a river bottomland within the Appalachian Plateau. Without the Muskingum River nearby, there is a possibility that the Europeans would have skipped by this area of Ohio at first. This could have been possible because if Zanesville was not in a river bottomland then it would be a part of the heavily eroded, hilly areas that characterized the southeast in Ohio. With irrigation came the idea to use the Muskingum River as a source of transportation during the mid 18th century. The creation of this canal in the early years of the 19th century provided people with a regulated form of transportation to different regions of the country and the state before trains and planes. This explains why the Europeans started a settlement in Zanesville as most towns and villages based themselves on agriculture during the times before mass industrialization.

Industrialization brought about the change in the distribution of the population from rural areas to urban ones. The population distribution Zanesville changed because of this urbanization. By 1910, Ohio had officially reached the point where people in urban areas outnumbered those in rural areas. The technological advances of the Industrial Revolution and mass production had finally managed to change the majority of the populace from farmers to industrial workers. This change in population distribution did not change the face of Ohio as being a farming state. Zanesville did become a modernized city but it still retains much of its farming heritage as the people outside the city limits still farm to some extent. The introduction of the train and the airplane as main forms of transportation essentially eliminated the need for the much slower canal-based transportation such as canoes or small boats/ships. This modernization allowed the people to be able to withstand any climate and allowed more people to move to Ohio and Zanesville for jobs or farming opportunities.

While industrialization and modernization fundamentally changed the way people function in the world today, roughly half of Ohio is still farmland. The importance of agriculture to Ohio is evident as in 1850 the state came in first in agricultural output in the country. Zanesville derives its existence from the agriculture that defines Ohio as well. Without the perfect setting of being in a river bottomland with excellent soil and weather to keep the crops growing consistently, Zanesville may not have been settled as early nor been as important to the state in agricultural contributions as well as innovative contributions from the people who grew up in the area.