Marietta is a city in and the county seat of Washington County, Ohio, United States. During 1788, pioneers to the Ohio Country established Marietta as the first permanent settlement of the new United States in the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio. Marietta is located in southeastern Ohio at the mouth of the Muskingum River at its confluence with the Ohio River. The population was 14,085 at the 2010 census.
It is the second-largest city in the Parkersburg-Marietta-Vienna, West Virginia-Ohio (part) Metropolitan Statistical Area. The private, nonsectarian liberal arts Marietta College is located here. It was a station on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War.
This is the site of the prehistoric Marietta Earthworks, a Hopewell complex more than 1500 years old, whose Great Mound and other major monuments were preserved by the earliest United States settlers in parks such as the Mound Cemetery.
In 1770, the future U.S. president George Washington, then a surveyor, began exploring large tracts of land west of his native Virginia. During the Revolutionary War, Washington told his friend General Rufus Putnam of the beauty he had seen in his travels through the Ohio Valley and of his ideas for settling the territory.
Marietta was founded by New Englanders. It was the first of what would become a prolific number of New England settlements in what was then the Northwest Territory. These New Englanders or “Yankee”s as they were called, were descended from the English colonists who had settled New England in the 1600s and were members of the Congregationalist church. Correspondingly, the first church constructed in Marietta was a Congregationalist church which was constructed 1786.
In the summer of 1781, John Carpenter built Carpenter’s Fort or Carpenter’s Station as it was sometimes called, a fortified house above the mouth of Short Creek on the Ohio side of the Ohio River, near present day Marietta.
After the war, the newly formed United States had little cash but plenty of natural resources. Eager to develop additional lands, the new government decided to pay veterans of the Revolution with warrants for land in the Northwest Territory, which was organized under federal authority in 1787 by the Northwest Ordinance. Competing states had agreed to end their claims to the lands; Pennsylvania and Virginia received some lands. Arthur St. Clair was appointed by the president as governor of the new territory. The Ohio Company of Associates had supported provisions in the ordinance to allow veterans to use their warrants to purchase the land. They bought 1.5 million acres (6,100 km²) of land from Congress.
On April 7, 1788, 48 men of the Ohio Company of Associates, led by General Putnam, arrived at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers. The site was on the east side of the Muskingum River, across from Fort Harmar, a military outpost built three years prior.
Bringing with them the first government sanctioned by the US for this area, they established the first permanent United States settlement in the Northwest Territory. They named Marietta in honor of Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, who had aided the colonies in their battle for independence from Great Britain.
The Native Americans were unhappy to see white settlers moving into their territory. The latter immediately started construction of two forts: Campus Martius, whose former site is now occupied by the museum of the same name, and Picketed Point Stockade, at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers. At the same time, the settlers started developing their community, platted according to plans they had made in Boston.
Campus Martius fort at Marietta, with Great Mound visible to right of tree
Picketed Point stockade at Marietta
In 1788, George Washington said, “No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that which has just commenced at the Muskingum…If I was a young man, just preparing to begin the world, or if advanced in life and had a family to make provision for, I know of no country where I should rather fix my habitation…”. The families of the settlers began arriving within a few months. By the end of 1788, 137 people populated the area.
In 1789, the United States signed the Treaty of Fort Harmar with several Native American nations who occupied areas of the Northwest Territory, to settle issues related to trade, and the boundary between their lands and United States settlement. The US did not address the Native Americans’ major grievance about European-American settlers moving into their lands, particularly in the Western Reserve, where there were disputes over land. Although Congress authorized Governor Arthur St. Clair to give land back to the Indians, he did not do so. Conflict increased as the Native American tried to push the settlers out. After years of warfare in the region, they were defeated. The US signed the Treaty of Greenville (1795) with the Native Americans, which secured the safety of settlers to leave the forts and develop their farms.
The settlers held services regularly and chartered the first church in 1796. It was a Congregational institution; its charter was unusually inclusive due to the varied religious backgrounds of its members. The congregation constructed the first church building in 1807.
Education was important to the settlers, many of whom had been officers during the Revolution. During that first winter, they began a basic school for the children at Campus Martius. In 1797, settlers founded Muskingum Academy. The town had numerous abolitionists, and Ephraim Cutler was instrumental as a state delegate in 1802 at the state convention in swaying the vote for the state to be free of slavery.
Townspeople organized and chartered Marietta College in 1835. It was used as a station on the Underground Railroad to help slaves escape from the South. Ohio University was founded earlier elsewhere in the territory, on land reserved for public education under the Northwest Ordinance.
The settlers preserved the Great Mound, or Conus, by planning their own cemetery around it. They also preserved two largest platform mounds, which they called Capitolinus and Quadrophenus. The former has been used as the site for the library. The Mound Cemetery has the highest number of burials of Revolutionary War officers, indicating the nature of the generation that settled Marietta.
Marietta’s location on two major navigable rivers made it ideal for industry and commerce. Boat building was one of the early industries. Artisans built oceangoing vessels and sailed them downriver to the Mississippi and south to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. In less than two decades after settlement, the steamboat had been developed, and was also constructed here. Brick factories and sawmills supplied materials for homes and public buildings. An iron mill, along with several foundries, provided rails for the railroad industry; the Marietta Chair Factory made furniture.
Survey of Marietta Earthworks, 1837
Interest in the prehistoric culture that built the Marietta Earthworks continued. The complex was surveyed and drawn by Ephraim George Squier and Edwin Hamilton Davis, whose large project on numerous prehistoric mounds was published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1848 as Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. It was the first book published by the Smithsonian. Their drawing to the right shows the plan of the original complex, which “included a large square enclosure surrounding four flat-topped pyramidal mounds, another smaller square, and a circular enclosure with a large burial mound at its center.” The walled, graded path, called by the settlers the Sacra Via, led from the largest enclosure to the lower river’s edge. This was destroyed in 1843 during mid-nineteenth century development.
Railroads and oil
Local development began with the Belpre and Cincinnati Railroad (B&C); it was founded in 1845. It was intended to connect from Belpre, Ohio, the next town downriver, to a planned Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) spur to Parkersburg. But, for years, the Virginia government did not allow the B&O to construct track south of Wheeling. In 1851 developers changed the Ohio state terminus to Marietta and changed the name of the railroad to the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad that year. The right-of-way for an alternate connection to the B&O extended upriver from Marietta to Bellaire, Ohio. The M&C was bankrupt by 1857, but construction of track continued west to reach Cincinnati. The first through-train from Cincinnati ran on April 9, 1857. The M&C got out of bankruptcy in 1860.
Col. William Stacy marker, facing the Great Mound or Conus
The railroad was never constructed upriver from Marietta. The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) in its expansion later purchased the right-of-way between Marietta and Bellaire.
Passengers traveling between Marietta and Parkersburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) had to take a steamboat for the 14 miles between the two towns and transfer. With help from the B&O and the Baltimore City Council, the Union Railroad finally connected Marietta to Belpre, Ohio in 1860. Later absorbed by the B&O, this section of track is still in operation (2008), with unit coal trains providing most of the traffic.
The planned bridge from Parkersburg across the Ohio River to Belpre was finally built 1868-1870 by the B&O, as part of its main line from Baltimore to St. Louis, Missouri. This cut Marietta off from traffic and trade, although it retained local and Ohio service. In the early 20th century, Marietta was served by 24 passenger trains a day, most of which ran on the PRR tracks.
William P. Cutler was a major figure in the M&C. He also backed the Union Railroad and the Marietta, Columbus and Cleveland Railroad, among other local railroads. Cutler served as General Manager and as President of the M&C for many years.
In 1860, oil was first drilled in the Marietta region. Oil booms in 1875 and 1910 made investors rich, leading to the construction of numerous lavish houses in the town, of which many still stand. The Dawes brothers of Marietta founded the Pure Oil Company. All four brothers became nationally prominent businessmen and/or politicians: Charles Gates Dawes, Rufus C. Dawes, Beman Gates Dawes and Henry May Dawes. Charles Dawes was elected in 1924 with President Calvin Coolidge to serve as the 30th Vice President of the United States (1925-1929). In 1925 he shared the Nobel Peace Prize, based on his work on the Dawes Plan and relieving an international crisis in 1923 related to German reparations after World War I.
In 1880, the first Putnam Street Bridge was opened to connect Marietta to Fort Harmar. It provided the first free crossing of the Muskingum.
20th century to present
As transportation advanced, Marietta was passed by. From 1868-1870, the B & O Railroad built a bridge to connect Parkersburg, West Virginia and Belpre; and the National Road went further north through Zanesville. The Pennsylvania Railroad had a station in Marietta, with 26 daily trains between Marietta and Pittsburgh. After WWII passenger service decreased and the last rail passenger service ended in 1953. Marietta was relatively isolated from new travel routes until 1967, when I-77 was opened with close access to the city.
In 1939, the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen was established in Marietta during the Great Depression to celebrate the city’s substantial river history and its people. Two years later the Ohio River Museum was opened. In 1972, the museum campus was totally redesigned.
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