August 23 (Afternoon) – Zoar Village, Zoar, OH

This afternoon, we headed south of Canton

to the quaint and historic village of Zoar,

 

where even the parking lots have rules.

A village in what is now Zoar, Ohio was founded by German religious dissenters called the Society of Separatists of Zoar in 1817.  It was named after the Biblical village to which Lot and his family escaped from Sodom and was a communal society, all property was communally owned, and the farms, shops, and factories were managed by regularly elected trustees.

The Separatists, or Zoarites, emigrated from the kingdom of Wurttenberg in southwestern Germany due to religious oppression from the Lutheran church.  Having separated from the established church, their theology was based in part on the writings of Jacob Bohme.  They did not practice baptism or confirmation and did not celebrate religious holidays except for the Sabbath.

A central flower garden in Zoar

is based on the Book of Revelations with a towering tree in the middle

representing Christ and other elements surrounding it depicting other allegorical elements.

The leader of the society was named Joseph Bimeler ( born 1778), a pipe maker as well as teacher from Ulm.

His charismatic leadership carried the village through a number of crises. Bimeler led the society until his death, which occurred in 1853.

An early event critical to the success of the colony was the digging of the Ohio and Erie Canal.

The Zoarites had purchased 5,000 acres of land sight unseen and used loans to pay for it.  The loans were to be paid off by 1830.  The Society struggled for many years to determine what products and services they could produce in their village to pay off the loans.

The state of Ohio required some of the Zoarite land to be used as a right of way and offered the Zoarites an opportunity to assist in digging the canals for money.  The state gave them a choice of digging it themselves for pay or having the state pay others to dig the canal.  The Zoarites then spent several years in the 1820s digging the canal and thus were able to pay off their loans on time with much money to spare.

The society attained its greatest prosperity in the 1850s, when it owned over 10,000 acres of land and was worth approximately $1 million.  Many German-style structures that have been restored and are part of the Zoar Village State Memorial. There are presently ten restored buildings. According to the Ohio Historical Connection, Zoar is an island of Old-World charm in east-central Ohio.

Bimeler’s death on August 31, 1853, led to a slow decline in the cohesion of the village. By 1898, the village voted to disband the communal society and the property was divided among the remaining residents.

While the community members were pacifists in their beliefs, a number of young men did serve in the Civil War.

For some of these men, the first time they ever heard English was when they joined their military units.

Brick sidewalks

with its short, triangular-shaped fire hydrants

line both sides of the main street … where many of the community’s historic buildings are found.

 

Other buildings on a few of the side-streets which dated from the mid-19th century are still standing and many of those are currently used as residences.

The porches and yards also yielded a wealth of mostly old relics and antiques

as well as more birdhouses than we’ve seen in any other similarly small area.

 

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