The Nelson T. Gant house, located at 1845 West Main Street in Zanesville, is the house that has been preserved by the Nelson T. Gant Foundation for the purpose of keeping the history of Zanesville alive. The Nelson T. Gant Foundation was founded in 2001 with the purpose of restoring the Gant house and to revive the legacy of Nelson T. Gant for the building of character and community/cultural pride. Its purpose is to develop the Nelson T. Gant house into an historical, educational, cultural and charitable facility.
Nelson T. Gant was one of Zanesville’s most prominent African-American residents and was an important figure before, during, and after the Civil War. Pictured below, Gant contributed to the advancement of Zanesville as well as the abolitionist movement.
Nelson Talbot Gant was born in Loudoun County in Virginia on May 10, 1821. He was born into slavery just as most blacks in the South were during this period of American history. His master used him as a body servant, meaning that he was a valet or personal maid (most likely valet). During his time as a slave, Gant met the woman of his dreams and married her in 1843. Anna Marie Hughes was a slave of a different owner with the last name Russell and was Gant’s crush since he was a young man. Upon his master’s death in September 1845, Gant received his freedom and he immediately began working to earn enough to buy his wife Anna from her owner. Nelson’s freedom was a gift from his former master, John Nixon, through his last will and testament. Had he not received such a gift from his former master, Gant could have been taken by the state or sold back into slavery with a new owner. Fortune smiled on him as his master’s dying wish was to free his slaves and let them choose their own fate in the world.
Nelson worked selling firewood in Virginia for a year following his master’s death then left to go to Zanesville to set up a house for he and his wife to live in once she was free. However, he grew anxious to retrieve her from captivity and tried to steal her in late 1846. They were caught in Washington D.C. and she was sent back to her owner while he was sent to jail. He was brought up on charges but was acquitted because a wife could not be compelled to testify against her own husband. With the help of the abolitionists and the Quakers in Zanesville, Gant bought his wife’s freedom in February 1847 and the couple moved into the house.
Pictured above is the Nelson T. Gant House today. It has been restored and preserved as well as it possibly could be throughout the years since the Gants passed and the Nelson T. Gant Foundation was set up.
Nelson Gant returned to Zanesville with his wife and one year old daughter in tow to the house he built on the National Road, or Route 40. The family had good fortune with farming and their finances began to grow substantially using their 140 acres of land. They grew vegetables, sold blocks of ice cut from the Licking River, and they became a prominent influence in Zanesville once they purchased 160 acres that included a coal mine and a saltlick. This gave the family more wealth and influence over the community, even moreso after Nelson Gant became a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The Gant family also partook in the abolitionist movement during the pre-Civil War era by helping the Underground Railroad. Nelson Gant was known to have helped slaves of all ages and genders to freedom through using his house a one of the stops for the Underground Railroad. The Gants were one of the former slave families that gave the runaway slaves hope for their own future and their own loved ones.
Above is the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom marker placed in front of the Gant House. This marker, placed in 2004, identified the building as an Underground Railroad site
The Nelson T. Gant House is a historically significant building because of the history of its owner and the impact he had on the community and its growth. He and his wife made a small park named Gant’s Grove that was one of the first integrated parks in the state. This area eventually became the site of the Municipal Stadium, which hosts a plethora of events and exhibitions within its confines. The man known as Nelson T. Gant exercised a large amount of influence over the community through his connections to former slaves who arrived seeking freedom and the white abolitionists who had helped him achieve his goals. Gant was even fortunate enough to have met Frederick Douglass as they both sought the freedom of all blacks. His death on July 14, 1905 was a day of mourning for many people as he was a crucial part of so many people’s lives, especially during his abolitionist years and his leader of the church years.
In the above photo is a closer view of the Nelson T. Gant House. The wear is very visible, especially on the first floor of the home, showing how the home has only survived thanks to the Nelson T. Gant Foundation’s careful work and dedication to preserving the site as an important historical piece of not only Zanesville’s history, but Ohio’s as well.
The architectural style of the home suggests that Nelson Gant built the two story home with the Greek Revival in mind. This architectural style of the 19th century was common during the years between 1835 and 1860. It is represented by the trabeated, or recessed, entryway surrounded by a porch with Doric or Ionic columns. This is clearly shown in the above picture with the doorway being slightly deeper in the wall of the home than the windows and the columns that help to hold the porch’s roof up. There is a level of symmetry in the architecture due to its Greek Revival design as well. This building is a perfect representation of what a normal home may look like in the Zanesville area during the era before the Civil War.