Desire for religious freedom caused about 200 German Separatists to escape their homeland and eventually make their new American home at Zoar Village in 1817. The town received its name from a Biblical source as Lot sought refuge in Zoar from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The group’s leader, Joseph Bimeler, first led the group to Pennsylvania, where they received help from the local Quaker community. The Quakers gave them jobs and finally loaned them money to buy about 5000 acres in northeastern Ohio.
Many in the group were having financial problems so they decided to put all their money together. The Society of the Separatists of Zoar held all property and finances, as they established one of the most successful communal settlements in American history.
In their early days, constructing the Ohio & Erie Canal gave work for the people of Zoar, plus easy access to receiving and shipping goods. Zoar actually became a shipping port during the days of the canal. The settlement lasted about 80 years before a public auction sold all communal property, and people began working for themselves.
Today, ten historic buildings offer a peek into life of the people who lived here. Guides dressed in costume give valuable information to make the day entertaining and informative. Special programs are held throughout the year that are educational and fun – from speakers to making hands-on projects. Take a step back in time and explore their way of life.
Residents in the 1800s would meet in the Assembly House each morning where they would be assigned daily tasks. The German women honored cleanliness in all things, so whitewashed walls and even scrubbed trees in their front yards.
The village blacksmith became responsible for making wheels for the buggies that the Zoarites used. Perhaps he had a hand in making the keg wagon that took beer to the workers in the fields. If you didn’t work, you didn’t get any beer!
Zoar Public School instructed students grades 1–8 from the village and surrounding area. Grades 1-4 studied downstairs with easy access to the playground, while older students in grades 5-8 were instructed upstairs until the school closed in 1960. At its beginning all instruction was in German, but over the years it gradually switched bit by bit to English.
A bakery contained three main rooms. One room held bins of various kinds of flour, potatoes, and ingredients necessary for making the baked goods. Another contained a 6′ deep, brick oven, which filled an entire wall. Here 80-100 loaves of bread, each weighing 4-5 pounds, were baked each day. Finally, the distribution room handed out baked goods to students, who delivered various goods each day after school.
Two museums are located at the Town Hall. The Ohio & Erie Canal Museum is downstairs and contains pictures and memorabilia from the days of the canal through that area. Upstairs, The Museum of Zoarite Artifacts contains tools, pictures, spinning wheels, and toys used in those early days.
The Meeting House, built in 1853, contains Zoar-made bricks and sandstone from Zoarite quarries. Their unique sounding bell perhaps resulted from silver dollars being mixed with the ore while the bell was being cast. The beautiful pipe organ, purchase in 1892, filled the air with hymns while visitors joined their voices.
The original cabin of the founder still looked like a place this gypsy wouldn’t mind living. In many ways, these people were way ahead of their time!
Zoar Village is off I-77 at State Route 212 between Canton and New Philadelphia, Ohio. Their spectacular garden and greenhouse calls for a return trip and a separate posting. Don’t forget to stop at the Firehouse Grille & Pub for a relaxing break…everything was delicious.
Comments on: "Zoar Village – 1800s Communal Living" (2)
What a wonderful place for people to learn about the area and another part of American history! Your pictures accent the article perfectly, Bev.
Thanks for stopping by to learn more about the history of our little part of the world.