See It, Feel It
As you experience life in quaint, historic Harmar Village, and after you survey the Village from the railroad bridge, walk down to the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio, to the point near Harmar School, toss a pebble as far as you can toward Williamstown. Had you pitched that pebble in 1785, someone inside Fort Harmar may have been standing at the point of the splash and sounded the alarm!
Fort On The Frontier
Three years prior to the founding of Marietta and what would become Washington County, a detachment from The United States Army under the command of Colonel Josiah Harmar built a fort at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers. Fort Harmar was established on the frontier of the new nation to secure the (then) Northwest Territory.
Settled April 7, 1788, the city of Marietta is the oldest organized municipality in the state, and the first official American settlement in the Northwest Territory. Still today, Marietta is known for the vision of its pioneers — 48 Revolutionary War veterans from New England on a bold adventure. In fact, the flatboat built for the trip was named the "Adventure Galley."
The founders made their homes in a fort on the East side of the Muskingum River at Campus Martius, the site of the museum built around the blockhouse and home of General Rufus Putnam.
Marietta's settlers were members of the Ohio Company, organized by the accomplished military engineer General Rufus Putnam. The original group arrived at a time of great changes in history as well as in geography. They named our town in honor of French Queen Marie-Antoinette, whose nation provided crucial aid in the struggle for American independence.
A New England Gateway
This huge tract of wilderness, stretching from present-day Ohio to Minnesota, became America's first great Western frontier. The first settlement in this vast territory was surveyed by Rufus Putnam and laid out in the style of a typical New England village of the time.
Marietta was to become the seat of government and commerce for the area as more and more pioneers came to the territory for land. Commemorating the push westward is the Start Westward monument located in East Muskingum Park. The monument was sculpted by Gutson Borglum who is perhaps better known for sculpting the heads of the presidents on Mount Rushmore.
But Marietta's founders were not the first to bring civilized society to Washington County.
Hunter-Gatherers On Ice
Ancient "Indians" traversed the region on game trails hunting mammoth, mastodon and smaller, less formidable game in the last centuries of the Ice Age. At that time, trails to important sites began to be created by thousands of footsteps thousands of years before the first Americans of European descent would arrive. Many of these trails eventually became modern highways.
For many generations after the Ice Age, from around 8,000 BC, native people continued to hunt, fish, and gather food from wild plants before gradually adopting a new lifestyle.
The Adena were the first people in the region to settle in villages, cultivate crops, use pottery, make ornaments, and bury their honored dead in conical mounds dating from 800 BC to 100 AD. Though they lived near their gardens, the Adena were hunter-gatherers like their ancestors and likely moved on when wild game became scarce.
The Hopewell people lived in the area from 100 BC to 500 AD. Both the Adena and the Hopewell are known as "moundbuilders" for their elaborate geometric earthworks.Fort Ancient Indians resided in Southern Ohio from 1,000 AD to about 1650. Their villages were comprised of small houses around a central plaza. They built small burial mounds but gradually began to bury their dead in cemeteries with no mounds.
Into The Sunset
After 1650, American Indian tribes coming from all directions vied for territory. Some were driven West to Ohio and points beyond as European settlements grew and pushed West. Among the tribes migrating to our area, where they lived until about 1850, were the Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee.
Very little visible evidence remains of the native cultures that preceded us in the last 2,000 years.
To their credit, Marietta's founders respectfully preserved the prehistoric earthworks constructed by the Adena and the Hopewell people, building around them as they developed their own community.
Later generations would exploit some of the earthworks or remove them as impediments to progress.
Campus Martius Museum has on exhibit artifacts from Washington County's early period including prehistoric relics, a small bell that Marie-Antoinette gave the city in gratitude, and the restored Rufus Putnam house, still on its original foundation. Other exhibits help tell the story of Marietta from colonial times to present.
A Railroad That Has No Tracks
Beginning about 1795, Washington County's small but influential group of anti-slavery activists became reliable conductors on the Underground Railroad, the trail to freedom from slavery in the South. There are sites on the Underground Railroad that can be toured with or without a guide. A permanent exhibit is on display at the Belpre Historical Society Museum.
A Permanent Byway
Two hundred years ago the Muskingum River was a major byway for settlers and for travelers on the Underground Railroad. It remains an important link to the state's heritage, with its 10 hand-operated wooden locks. Installed in the early 1800s, the lock mechanics are still in service today. This unique lock and dam system is designated a National Civil Engineering Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
When Ohio sought statehood in 1803, Marietta lobbied to become its first capital city, losing out to Chillicothe. However, capital continued to flow like its rivers as Marietta was still the main point of entry into the state. In 1811, as steamboats began to churn America's river waters, Washington County entered a boom era bolstered by settlers passing through, ship-building, and commerce.
Heritage Preserved And Celebrated
The Ohio River Museum at Campus Martius documents local river heritage from early flatboats to the sternwheel era. The W.P. Snyder Jr., the only steam-powered sternwheel towboat still afloat in the United States, is moored behind the museum.
The annual Ohio River Sternwheel Festival proves that riverboat life still thrives, giving steamboat fans and everyone else cause to celebrate. Every year, the weekend after Labor Day draws large crowds for live music, sternwheeler races, an antique car show, and many other events.River life can be fully experienced on the Valley Gem Sternwheeler, which offers relaxing cruises from spring through the magnificent fall foliage season. The Valley Gem is also moored at the Museum, under the Washington Street bridge.
From Fossils To Fuels
Marietta also enjoyed a long period of prosperity beginning in the mid-1800s when oil was discovered in the area. The industry still attracts producers to the area as well as students from all over the world who come for the outstanding petroleum engineering program at Marietta College. Geologists chip away at sedimentary rock outcroppings to collect fossilized specimens of plants and animals from an ancient sea.
Since many settlers of the early frontier came through our county, family genealogists are drawn to the area to search one of Ohio's best, well-maintained genealogy libraries.