Ohio’s Oldest Existing Settlement
Gnadenhutten is the oldest settlement in the state of Ohio and this year celebrates its 250th birthday. In 1772, Rev. David Zeisberger, a Moravian missionary, and another young missionary, John Heckewelder, founded two villages along the Tuscarawas River in the state of Ohio with the help of Joshua, a Mohican chieftain.
Most are familiar with Schoenbrunn Village, which was Zeisberger’s first settlement for the American Indians – mostly Delawares. His second settlement that same year was Gnadenhutten and that town still exists today.
This October, Gnadenhutten will celebrate its 250th anniversary at their Homecoming Celebration on the 7, 8, and 9th. It all begins on Friday evening with food trucks downtown and apple butter being made at the museum. Saturday has activities planned all day long for all members of the family. Sunday, church services will be held in the Museum House in the Historical Park.
Streets downtown are blocked off for craft booths, Farmers’ Market, Corn-Hole Tournament, and music. While the kids are enjoying the Bounce House, Obstacle Course, Putt Putt, and Face Painting, adults might relax playing Bingo at the Fire House. Don’t forget to check out Custom Kemps Car Show in the afternoon.
Saturday will be filled with music. In the afternoon Wes Schryok and Mike Wykoff will be entertaining. Then that evening, Putnams System Rewind, a family band with a reputation for performing a great variety of music, will be on stage from 6 -9. Music will be followed by fireworks from the top of Stocker’s Hill.
Apple Butter Days happens on October 8 and 9 at the museum with apple peeling beginning on Friday night when they will show people how to make apple butter. The family of Samuel Shrock from Millersburg will be making the apple butter again this year. Enjoy visiting the encampment in the park where people will be dressed for the early 1800s.
A memorial was placed in the Historical Park at the spot of what is now called the Gnadenhutten Massacre. The plaque on the memorial states:
TRIUMPHED IN DEATH
MARCH 8, 1782
Ten years after settlement, Captain David Williamson, an American Revolutionary War officer, and his militia suspected the peaceful Mohicans and Delawares in Gnadenhutten, who had been converted by the Moravian missionaries because they remained neutral during the war. Seeking revenge for other Indian raids, they tricked the Delaware into believing they were friends. The next day, March 8, 1782, they killed all the villagers except for two scalped boys who escaped and told of the incident. One Ohio historian called it “the wickedest deed in our history.” Story of this tragedy is told at the outdoor drama, Trumpet in the Land.
A museum tells the story of those early settlers, who lived a peaceful life in their log cabins along the river. These Indians loved music and enjoyed working in their gardens. There is also a reconstructed church and log cabin like those that were on that site over 200 years ago. A burial mound contains the remains of those ninety Christian Delawares who were massacred that day.
The mayor’s office and the museum have a small booklet “Massacre at Gnadenhutten” which is a copy of the history published by the Gnadenhutten Monument and Cemetery Organization back on October 7, 1843. It tells the entire story of what is called the blackest page in history of the Northwest Territory.
After the massacre, John Heckewelder returned to the village and again organized the town but this time with basically a white Moravian population. Today there is still a Moravian Church in Gnadenhutten called the John Heckewelder Memorial Moravian Church established in 1803. Due to his early persistence in establishing the village, Gnadenhutten still exists today.
Mayor Rich Gosling hopes that in the future, “While we will never forget the tragic massacre that took place here, I would like for Gnadenhutten to, first of all, be remembered as the oldest settlement in Ohio.”
The town has grown from those early days when travel was on trails by horseback and wagon or on the Tuscarawas River. Things changed in the early 1900s when the Ohio-Erie Canal traveled along the river, followed by the railroad and then today’s highways.
Enjoy a visit to Gnadenhutten, the oldest established town in Ohio, during their 250th Anniversary celebration. Then watch what changes happen over the next 50 years.