A New Designation for Historic Zoar!

Aerial view of the village of Zoar, via Ohio Memory.
Membership list documenting Zoar individuals and families who left Pennsylvania on their way to settle in Tuscarawas County–a total number of 112. Via Ohio Memory.

Have you heard the news? Zoar Village, part of the Ohio History Connection’s statewide system of historic sites, has been designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior! With this designation, Zoar joins an impressive list of only about 2,500 other sites throughout the entire country which have been identified as “nationally significant historic places [that] possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.”

The village of Zoar, located in Tuscarawas County, was founded in 1817 by German Separatists seeking religious freedom after they fled their homeland. These settlers established a utopian communal society–the Society of Separatists of Zoar–that was almost entirely self-sufficient. Zoar residents worked in a number of industries within and near the village, including flour mills, textiles, a tin shop, cooper, wagon maker, two iron foundries and several stores.The Separatists also built a seven-mile stretch of the Ohio and Erie Canal, which brought visitors into the community and supported the economy, allowing Zoar to prosper for nearly 80 years.

Over time, however, the deaths of original residents, a younger generation who lacked memories of the Society’s persecution and early struggles, and increasing influence from the outside world took their toll, and the Society was dissolved in 1898. Throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, Zoar has continued to exist as a small town in rural eastern Ohio, and today, the Ohio History Connection operates a portion of the town as a historic site with a number of the Zoarite buildings restored and open to the public. You can learn more about the Society of Separatists of Zoar’s founding, growth and eventual dissolution in this 2013 blog post.

Fraktur drawing created by a Zoarite, via Ohio Memory.

According to the National Parks Service announcement, Zoar “expands the understanding of communal utopian societies in 19th-century America by representing a significant and distinctive community reflecting the traditional landscape design, architecture, and way of life inherent in the Society of Separatist’s world view and beliefs.” The unique nature of the community at Zoar is truly worth exploring, from their early granting of voting rights to women in the Society, to their religious Fraktur art, to their relationships with other similar contemporary communities.

In light of the village’s historic achievement, we invite you to explore the many items on Ohio Memory that represent the Zoar experience, including objects they created and used, photographs showing Zoarites at work, correspondence and documentation of the Society’s activities, and much more!

Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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