viaARCHITECTURE has joined the team of designers, historians and curators assembling a series of events to coincide with the 200 year anniversary of the founding of Zoar, Ohio.
Frederick Biehle’s grandfather, August F. Biehle Jr., was one of the principal Cleveland School artists who returned periodically to paint the village.
Zoar was settled in 1817 by a group of 300 “separatists” that had emigrated from Bavaria in southwest Germany. As followers of the teachings of Jacob Boehme they believed that the Lutheran church was hopelessly corrupt, and that they should be permitted to worship God in their own way. This proved to be impossible in Germany.
After emigrating to the new world, their leader, Joseph Bimeler, purchased 5500 acres along the Tuscarawas River in central Ohio on behalf of the colony. They picked a site within it and named the town Zoar, from Genesis, the city where Lot had been permitted refuge during his flight from Sodom. Laying down an organizational grid, they put their European know-how to work constructing the first cabins.
As the colony struggled for economic survival in its first years it voted to create a cooperative system for the maintenance of the group. The Zoar society was organized in 1819 such that all property and income was to be held in common to be managed by the officers elected by the members. The socialist program would thrive by the end of the first generation and crest in the second, but by the end of the third, the lack of leadership and temptations of the world that surrounded it ultimately brought about its dissolution. In 1895 the properties were divided equally among its remaining members.
During its hay day work was held in the highest esteem. Women worked alongside the men performing the same tasks. Sundays were devoted to worship, except during the harvest. In 1827 they contracted with the state of Ohio to construct 7 miles of the new Ohio & Erie Canal that would cross their land adjacent to the Tuscarawas River. The canal gave the community access to markets for their agricultural products and manufactured goods, as far away as New York City and St. Louis. By 1834 it was a thriving community.
The most notable feature of the town was its community garden. At the center of the village the garden was laid out as the New Jerusalem revealed in the 21st chapter of Revelations. At its center was a towering Norway spruce tree representing Christ, the tree of life. From this center lead 12 paths representative of the 12 tribes of Israel. The society used the adjacent Tuscarawas River to site and power the various industries that allowed it to remain independent of the outside world. Iron, woolens, woodworking, flour and silk all had mills. There was a tannery, a brewery, a tin shop, a foundry, and within the town were a bakery, a shoe shop and a watch shop.