Zoar was founded by 300 German separatists who came to America in 1817 seeking religious freedom.

They bought a 5,500-acre tract along the Tuscarawas River and named their village Zoar — “a sanctuary from evil.”

Because life was difficult on this new frontier, they formed a commune in 1819. It lasted until 1898, when it was dissolved.

All property and wealth were pooled and held by the Society of Separatists of Zoar. Each member was to follow the decisions of the society’s trustees, and in return they received food, clothing and shelter. Some had regular jobs; others assembled daily to get their assignments.

The community operated as a cashless society. Bread and milk were passed out daily. Other goods were passed out on Fridays at the Magazine (storehouse).

From 1822 to 1829, members were asked to be celibate because the women were needed to work in the fields.

Farming was the main occupation, and crops flourished. There were orchards, vineyards and gardens. A flour mill, woolen mill and planing mill were built along the river. Two blast furnaces were built. A general store and a hotel in the center of Zoar catered to outsiders.

The communal society, its thrift, its leadership and the fact the separatists helped dig the Ohio & Erie Canal enabled the Zoar commune to pay off the debt from buying the land and to build a financial surplus.

Even in its early days, picturesque Zoar drew a steady stream of tourists.

Zoar suffered in the late 1800s because it failed to modernize its industries, and the commune could no longer compete economically.

In addition, young and disillusioned members left.

— Bob Downing