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Zoar, OH (Zoar Village) – (1817 – present farming town with less residents than in the past)
Classification: historic town
Location: Lawrence Township, Tuscarawas County – On SR 212 at the intersection of Mineral City Zoar RD NE (2nd St)
One of the coolest completely restored villages in the Ohio is on State Route 212 in Tuscarawas County. Its most recognized building is the reportedly haunted Zoar Hotel, built in 1833 on Main Street. Zoar was founded by immigrants who left Germany due to religious persecution from the Lutheran Church. They purchased 5,500 acres of land in Lawrence Township, in hopes of attaining a better quality of life. Joseph Bimeler (1778-1853) and Dorthea (Huber) Bimeler (1786-1852) founded Zoar along with 300 other settlers in 1817. It was named after the biblical city and means “sanctuary from evil”. Joseph was a pipemaker, teacher, and the leader of the group which was called The Society of Separatists of Zoar.
The Bimeler Cabin is the oldest structure in town. It was built in 1817 on 4th Street and was used as the first meeting house. Much of the land was acquired by loans that needed to be paid back quickly. The society bought the land sight unseen, and upon arrival, immediately began working on trying to figure out exactly what to do with it. They needed to know what crops could grow well there and which ones were most worth their time with planting and harvesting. Paying off the land loans as soon as possible reduced their accruing interest and lifted fears of repossession.
That goal became a source of motivation for the residents. On top of the financial stress, tensions ran high between the society members over several other aspects of life too. Most of those tensions were ironed out in their articles of association written in 1819. The society was much like an Amish community, although there were some differences. Women worked right alongside the men in farming and did equal work. According to the articles, no one had individual rights of property. Everything was done for the good of the community and the citizens were given “the necessities of life – nothing beyond”.
A grist mill was built on the Tuscarawas River in 1821 to increase the town’s revenue and a post office opened in 1826. The state bought up some of the Society of Separatists land for the right of way of the Ohio & Erie Canal in the 1820s. Jobs for constructing 7 miles and 4 locks on the canal gave Zoar’s residents the opportunity to quickly pay off the land loans, which they accomplished by 1830 along with construction of a wool factory. The society was incorporated by the state as an organization in 1832. Over 50 of the town’s citizens died of cholera that year, but the population remained steady.
New member applications reached the post office on a near daily basis. Joining the society was tough and required making it through a probationary period. Applicants had to conform to the lifestyle, but work was easy to get. The town bought an iron furnace in 1834 that employed around 100 families. The Number One House is another impressive building in town. It was intended to be a home for the elderly. The idea was later scratched and it was given to the Bimeler Family. A second mill was built on the river in 1837. The community spread out into neighboring townships over the next few decades.
The Society of Separatists owned the train station on the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad in nearby Fairfield, platted in 1854 on current-day State Route 800. It was called Zoar Station and had a general store and post office. Charles H. Ehlers (1839-1909) was the first postmaster. A group of members of the society platted Valley City with 28 lots in 1882, just a quarter mile north of Fairfield. 13 more lots were added crossing the border into Sandy Township in 1883. The name of the train station and post office in Fairfield changed to Zoarville in 1914, combining the 2 towns into one.
Back in Zoar, Joseph Bimeler’s death in 1853 caused dwindling interest in the community life and the villagers voted to disband the Society of Separatists in 1898. The town’s land was divided up between the remaining residents. A former house at the corner of E 3rd Street and Park Street was built as a house in 1863 and owned by William Bimeler (1876-1928) and Lillian (Ruof) Bimeler (1876-1942). Lillian donated the building to the Ohio Historical Society. They converted it into The Bimeler Museum in the early1920s. Zoar’s historic district, which encompasses pretty much the whole town, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
Other restored locations from the old village include the bakery, tin shop, wagon shop, blacksmith shop, dairy, and the kitchen and laundry. The garden in the middle of town is ornately planted. Historically, it has mostly been used for flowers and likely dates back to at least the 1820s. Zoar’s first school on E 3rd Street is a bed and breakfast. The Zoar Village State Memorial site is managed by the Ohio Historical Society and The Zoar Community Association. The store and visitors center is at 198 Main Street. Joseph and Dorthea Bimeler were buried in Zoar Cemetery at the end of 7th Street with most of the original society members.