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This group of German Separatists so named because they had broken with the established Lutheran church left southeastern Germany to escape persecution for their religious beliefs. The Separatists thought that the church should be simple and bereft of all ceremony; they emphasized a mystical, direct relationship with God.
The hardy group of 300 arrived in Philadelphia in August 1817 and were befriended by Quakers, who provided shelter and helped them find work. But it was the goal of the group and their leader, Joseph Baumeler (later Bimeler), to establish their own community in America.
They soon contracted to buy a 5,500-acre tract of land along the Tuscarawas River, agreeing to pay the purchase price over a period of fifteen years. Small groups of Separatists began leaving for Ohio as soon as they could afford to move, and the first cabin in the new village was completed by December 1, 1817.
AN EXPERIMENT IN COMMUNAL LIVING
The settlers called their new community Zoar, meaning "a sanctuary from evil." Named for Lot's Biblical town of refuge, the village was to be their sanctuary from religious persecution. At first, however, life for the settlers was far from heavenly.
Food was scarce the first winter. Because some families had not yet cleared their land or bought tools, they had to work on neighboring farms to feed themselves. The next season, each Zoar family cultivated its own acreage, but yields were insufficient to feed themselves and pay the land debt. Thus, in 1819, the original plan of private land ownership and cultivation was scrapped and the commune was born.
Under the new system, Baumeler remained the community's leader. All property and wealth were pooled and held by an organization known as the Society of Separatists of Zoar. Each member was to follow the decisions of the society's trustees; in return, they received food, clothing, and shelter. The new communal economy, the thrift of its members, and Baumeler's business acumen enabled the society to pay its debts and build a surplus by 1834.
Zoar's political organization was simple and democratic. Men and women had equal rights. The chief ruling body was the annually elected board of trustees. Most Zoarites had regularly assigned tasks to perform; those who did not, assembled daily to receive their assignments from the trustees.
The village grew. Crops flourished. Cattle and sheep farming prospered, and new houses and shops were built. The Tuscarawas River powered a sawmill, flour mill, planing mill, and woolen mill. Brick and rope making were developed as local industries.
By the mid-1830s, Zoar virtually was selfsustaining. The farms produced more food than was needed, and many products - such as flour, meat, hides, eggs, poultry, and butter - were sent to other towns for sale. The tinshop and foundry manufactured a variety of goods for general sale. The Zoarites contracted to build the portion of the Ohio and Erie Canal that crossed their land, which added to the society's income. By 1852, the society's assets were valued at more than $1 million.
Skill in gardening gave Zoar one of its most interesting features: the magnificent community garden, laid out with geometric precision. Occupying an entire village square, the garden was planted to symbolize the New Jerusalem described in the twentyfirst chapter of Revelation.
A Norway spruce at the center of the garden symbolized eternal life; circling the spruce was an arbor vitae hedge, representing heaven. Twelve juniper trees, one for each of the apostles, formed a third concentric circle. A circular walk enclosed this area, with twelve radiating pathways symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel.
The basic religious beliefs shown in the garden's design bound the Zoarites together, as did Joseph Baumeler's leadership. When Baumeler died in 1853, however, the society never fully recovered from the blow. Although the Zoarites lived and labored as a communal body, Baumeler had been the group's spiritual leader and business administrator even before their arrival in America. His energy and foresight largely were responsible for Zoar's success. After his death, the people's initiative gradually declined.
The social and economic environment was changing as well, and this, too, had a major impact on the community. The coming of the railroad in the 1880s brought more of the outside world to Zoar, and the rise of mass-production industries made Zoar's smaller businesses obsolete. With easier access to the outside world, younger members drifted away to make their fortunes, and religious orthodoxy decreased.
In 1898, with a growing number of Zoarites expressing their desire to disband and divide any remaining assets, the society was dissolved. Common property was divided among members, with each receiving about fifty acres and $200.
Today, the village remains a quiet oasis away from the confusion of modern life. Many of the public buildings have been restored and, together with private homes and shops, reflect the inhabitants' love of color and symmetry. Even now, Zoar retains the simplicity and charm with which it was endowed by its settlers.
The Ohio Historical Society began acquiring and restoring some of the original town buildings in 1942. Since then, the society has continued to reconstruct and restore parts of l the village, reproducing parts of Zoar as it appeared in the days of its greatest prosperity.
Zoar Store, built in 1833. Also housing the Post Office, the store was a center of the community and drew customers from outside Zoar as well. Both Zoar products and goods produced outside the village were sold here; today, the store sells tour tickets and nineteenth-century reproduction wares. An introductory video also is shown here.
Number One House, built in 1835. This impressive two-story, Georgian-style house once was the home of Zoar Society leader Joseph Baumeler and tWO other families. Initially planned as a shelter for the aged and infirm, the home has a cool, deep cellar where food and provisions for the entire community were stored. The house also features examples of Zoar furniture and crafts.
Garden and Greenhouse, built in 1835. The formal Garden spreads over an entire village square in a geometric plan based upon the Separatists' Biblically inspired nineteenth-century design. The Greenhouse, with attached Gardener's Residence, borders the Garden's north edge.
Bimeler Museum, built in 1868. This residence was remodeled extensively after the Zoar Society dissolved in 1898. Bequeathed to the Ohio Historical Society in 1942 by Mrs. Lillian Bimeler Srurm, a former Zoar Society member, it is furnished now as it might have been during the commune's last decade.
Bakery built in 1845. Zoar Society members came once a day to this shop to receive, free of charge, as many loaves of bread as they needed. The Bakery's brick ovens absorbed hear from the fires built within; ashes were then removed and the loaves were placed directly on the hearth. Demonstrations using the Bakerys ovens occur periodically, featuring the baking of bread, pretzels, and gingerbread.
Tinshop, originally built in 1825. The tinsmith worked in a small brick-and-timber building, a two-room shop where much of the metalware used in Zoar was produced and repaired. Tin cups, buckets, pitchers, and milk pails were made here; many of the items were sold in the Zoar Store. This reconstruction of the shop was built in 1970.
Wagon Shop, originally built in 1840. Wagons and buggies were constructed here by the wheelwright, then fitted with iron parts from the Blacksmith Shop next door. Wooden parts for farm tools also were made in the Wagon Shop. This reconstruction of the shop was built in 1972.
Blacksmith Shop, originally built in 1834. The biacksmith once produced everything from hinges to horseshoes. The charcoal-fired forge, with its huge bellows, stands just inside the door of this brick-paved shop, reconstructed in 1972.
Dairy, built in 1841. Milk, cheese, and butter - products of the society's herd of more than 100 cattle -were prepared and stored here. The dairy workers, mostly women, may have lived on the second floor and in the attic.
Kitchen, Laundry, and Magazine, built in 1835, circa 1880, and 1851, respectively The many residents of Number One House used these outbuildings. The magazine was the storehouse and distribution point for goods to community households.
Private shops and residences occupy many of Zoar's other original structures. While touring the village, visitors may browse in the shops and examine the exteriors of private homes from the streets and sidewalks.
Check with us at a later date.