German Separatists founded Zoar, Ohio, in 1817. The Separatists, numbering 200, came to Ohio from Germany seeking religious freedom from a repressive church-state. The Germans acquired several hundred acres of fertile land and named it Zoar, meaning “place of refuge.” Those familiar with Scripture (read “not Mitch” here) may recognize this name as that of the city to which Lot escaped after the destruction of Sodom.
The founders of Zoar quickly decided to work as a collective, rather than trying to separate into individual landowners. In less than 20 years, the communal inhabitants of Zoar had paid-off all debts and became virtually self-sufficient. Additionally, the community contracted to help build three miles of the Ohio and Erie Canal. To that end, the entire community instituted celibacy from 1822 to 1829, so women could work in the fields and on the canal rather than bearing children.
At the center of the village, the Separatists of Zoar created a three-acre flower garden to represent “New Jerusalem.” The first greenhouse ever built in Ohio was part of the garden. This garden is still an important feature of the village.
Zoar remained a successful commune for over 80 years. The commune finally dissolved in 1898 and separated land holdings. Descendants of the original founders live in Zoar and the surrounding area to this day.
That girl, her sister, her brother-in-law, and I drove down to Zoar yesterday and spent part of a rainy afternoon walking around the old village. The village does not look much different today than it did in the early 1880s. Even under gray skies, the village is handsome.