Each summer, Historic Zoar Village welcomes thousands of visitors for tours, demonstrations and events. This year is special, with Zoar celebrating its 200th anniversary. Here’s a look at how Zoar has evolved from a 19th century utopian community to a nationally-recognized historic landmark that appeals equally to history buffs, families and anyone who just wants to stop and smell the roses.
Reflecting on the Past
Zoar’s story starts in 1817 when 200 German Separatists arrived in Tuscarawas County after fleeing their homeland due to religious persecution. The group built a settlement out of the surrounding wilderness and, two years later, created a society in which all members contributed to benefit the greater good of the community.
“Zoar built a thriving economy based on agriculture and manufactured goods,” says Jon Elsasser, president of the Zoar Community Association, which operates Historic Zoar Village today as a museum complex and historical site. “It became a popular vacation spot for Ohio elite like President William McKinley and Cleveland industrialist Alexander Gunn. Painters of the day were attracted here, with the Cleveland School of Artists gaining inspiration for their works as early as the 1870s.”
By the 1890s, younger residents had no memory of their German ancestors’ hardships, and many were drawn to modern American ideas shared by outsiders passing through Zoar. In 1898, the remaining members dissolved the society.
Ongoing Preservation for Future Generations
Despite its end, Zoar became one of the most successful utopian settlements in American history, lasting nearly 80 years. Preservation efforts began in 1936 when the community garden and Number One House, which had been home to the Society’s first leader, opened as a museum. Major restoration work began village-wide in the 1970s with local residents and the Ohio History Connection collaborating on formal efforts. And the work is ongoing. While the recently restored Bimeler House just opened as a museum and art gallery in May, plans are already underway to preserve the interior of the Zoar Hotel, which has sat empty and unused for 24 years.
Today, Historic Zoar Village is on the National Register of Historic Places and was recently named a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. “Out of about 2,500 historic places with this designation, 73 are in Ohio and we are one of only a few in Northeast Ohio,” Elsasser says. “It’s an overwhelming achievement that will help our Bicentennial visitors understand the large significance of what a small group of German immigrants created here.”
It’s also a popular stop along the Ohio and Erie Canalway Towpath Trail – drawing visitors in much the same way as it once did. Only now, instead of canal boats, visitors come by bike, hike or car.
Blooms, Buildings and a Bicentennial
What makes Zoar’s intact historical district so appealing to visitors is it’s truly like stepping back in time. Restorations have stayed true to the village’s original plans, documented through drawings and photographs. Today’s Zoar Garden boasts the same layout and types of plantings that would have been used when it was created nearly two centuries ago. Now the backdrop for weddings, garden parties and tours, the garden was originally created as a meditative space where Separatists could reflect on their blessings from God.
The historic district also features more than 40 structures built between 1817 and 1898 – with several housing restaurants and retail shops specializing in gifts and antiques. Elsasser notes that while the Separatists left much behind in the Old World, they did bring the architectural trends of early 19th century Europe, along with the skills and work ethic to replicate them. “Amazingly, 24 of the original 26 buildings are still standing,” he says. It’s as if the Separatists knew those structures would be part of a special commemoration two centuries later – and they are.
Visitors can take in Zoar’s history during their summers hours: June through September, on Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 am to 4 pm, and Sundays, noon to 4 pm Tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for kids five to 17 and free for children four and under. Zoar’s Visitor Center is located at 198 Main St., Zoar, Ohio 44397. Call 330-874-2646 or visit www.historiczoarvillage.com.
Bicentennial Summer Calendar
June 10-11 – Dog Fest
Pooches are welcome as Buckeye Dock Dogs showcases their talented canine competitors. Includes a pet parade, pet costume contest, pet-friendly vendors and free museum tours (for humans only) during the event.
July 29-30 Harvest Festival
One of the nation’s most prestigious antiques shows, with high-quality country antique dealers and juried artisans selling their wares.
Sept. 9-10 Battle of Antietam Civil War Reenactment and Encampment
Ohio’s largest Civil War event features 1,500 reenactors demonstrating 1860s life on the home front and battlefield. Includes Battle of Antietam reenactment, cavalry and artillery demonstrations, and food and provisions vendors.
One Trip – Twice the Fun
Zoar is conveniently located near Fort Laurens, Ohio’s only Revolutionary War-era fort. Zoar and Fort Laurens are connected by a three-mile stretch of the Ohio and Erie Scenic Byway and the Towpath Trail, providing an excellent hike-or-bike opportunity for active visitors. Combo tickets are available at both sites: $10 for adults and $5 for children.
2017 is special for Fort Laurens, too. It’s the site’s 100th anniversary as a state park. Today, visitors can walk the grounds, see the fort’s original outline, and learn about the “frontier soldiers” who served and died here in the small museum.
Visitors can also check out one of these special summer events:
- June 24 Let Them Eat Cake – Afternoon tea party featuring sample teas and desserts of the British Empire and a history of the Revolutionary War period.
- 4th of July Ceremony – Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Patriot includes guest speaker, color and honor guards and a wreath laying.
- July 8-9 Revolution on the Tuscarawas – Revolutionary War Reenactment and Encampment features British and Continental camps, musket drills, colonial American games for kids, crafts and more.
- August 12 Centennial Celebration – Features a 5K Fun Run and Walk, nature and history walks, speakers in the museum auditorium, canal boat races, and a Dressed for battle timeline featuring soldiers from American conflicts from the Revolutionary War through WWI.
Bicentennial Summer in Zoar