I will start off this series of religion in America with the latest place I visited and that is Zoar Village in central Ohio. I visited here last summer on one of my frequent micro-RV trips. As is common in many historical religious settlements it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Most of the info for this post was obtained from the book shown to the right which contains hundreds of pictures of the village throughout its history. The book was purchased at the village but is also available from Amazon.
Zoar village was settled by Lutheran separatists escaping persecution in Germany in the early 1800s. In Germany at that time the state and church were one and the same. It ran the schools and most civic ceremonies. A group of “Zoarites” or “Separatists” as they were called refused to attend the mandated church, or to send their kids to church run schools and because of their non-violence beliefs refused to serve in the army. As a result many were flogged, imprisoned, had their children and land stripped from them and turned over to the state.
With the help of English Quakers they emigrated to America. The American Quakers also helped them initially settle near Philadelphia. But Joseph Bimeler, who became their leader during their three month journey to America had no patience for the well-meaning Quakers and found land in “far-off” Ohio for his group to settle and thus the village of Zoar Ohio was formed.
Separatists had an abiding faith in the Bible and thought that each person should have a “direct” relationship with God. They also believed in the imminent return of Christ so each individual had to purge himself or herself of evil and become a living example of virtue. In rebellion to the church they left their worship services were stripped of all ceremony. Because of the imminent return they also believed in celibacy which demanded that households be divided by sex. That practice ended after about ten years.
By about 1850 the population of Zoar had reached about 500 and land values of the town exceeded $1 million. However a year later Bimeler died and no one was able to successfully take his place, and as a result that started years of decline of the town. In March of 1898 to society of Zoar formally decided to disband and everything was basically sold at auction soon thereafter. The remaining 200 or so members were given $200 and a piece of real estate.
As we will learn in future posts on this subject the final fate of the village was similar to many other religious settlements. Today the village of Zoar is struggling to find the resources to maintain the town. It has lost much of its attraction as a tourist site which kept it going for some time.
Click on any pic below to see a larger slideshow view..