Ohio is filled with hidden natural and cultural treasures, and Zoar Ohio is one of them. In fact, it’s one of the best things to see in Ohio before you die.
The historic Village of Zoar, settled in 1817 by a group of German Separatists, remains almost untouched from its original state. These days, it serves as a living memorial and museum, where visitors can stay and explore, learning about life as it was 200 years ago.
Things to Do in Zoar Ohio
From dining in comfortable taverns to exploring historic buildings, there are so many reasons to take a trip to Zoar Ohio. This historic village is a hidden gem on the edge of Amish Country.
Fort Laurens is the only fort in Ohio dating from the Revolutionary War. It doubles as a museum where visitors can learn about the history of the fort and the people who fought there, memorialized at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The fort, which was built as a wilderness outpost in 1778, is a stop along Ohio’s Erie Canal Towpath Trail. The 87-mile-long walking and biking trail runs throughout Northern Ohio.
The Zoar Community Association is a chapter of the Ohio Local History Alliance. It’s responsible for maintaining historical sites throughout Ohio for the purposes of education and cultural protection.
In Zoar, it preserves Historic Zoar Village as it was first built in 1817. The buildings here range from farms to museums and private homes, showcasing some of the most beautiful local examples of early 19th-century architecture and the unique cultural heritage of the Zoar community.
The Zoar Wetland Arboretum is a natural ecosystem of about 80 acres, comprising a combination of marsh and forest. This is the perfect place to observe rare and unique plant and animal life or simply enjoy time in nature.
There are 2 miles of cultivated walking trails here, offering visitors the chance to explore safely. Every season at Zoar Wetland Arboretum offers new things to see, from hummingbirds and monarch butterflies in the spring to bald eagles, stunning fall foliage, and breathtaking snowscapes.
The preserved 19th-century village is worth exploring because it remains almost untouched from its original state! Some of the homes are still occupied, while others serve as museums and memorials with fascinating information about the history and culture of Zoar Village.
Some of the most fascinating structures include the meeting house, sewing house, blacksmith, cider mill, schoolhouse, print shop, assembly house, Zoar hotel, cobbler shop, and garden house.
Canal Lands Park is a stunning trail located alongside the Lake Erie Canalway. It’s one of the top spots near Zoar Ohio for hiking, camping, or simply strolling along and enjoying nature.
Many people enjoy bringing a pair of binoculars along to catch a glimpse of waterfowl or animals playing along the shoreline. You’ll also see boats in the canal and may get the chance to climb aboard one. Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will want to make this trail a stop on their visit to Zoar.
The area surrounding the Erie Canalway is one of the best places in Ohio for exploring and enjoying nature. The Bolivar Dam is one spot along the route that you’ll want to visit.
Here, you can enjoy a one-of-a-kind vantage point over the water, as well as view some of the local animal, bird, and plant life. You might find people hiking, picnicking, walking dogs, and generally enjoying the scenery. It’s located close to Fort Laurens.
It should come as no surprise that Christmas in a historic village is an amazing experience. If you have the opportunity to visit Zoar Ohio during the holiday season, don’t pass it up!
In addition to exploring the historic buildings, visitors will have the chance to enjoy a craft show, horse-drawn carriage rides through the snow, musical performances, and more.
Stick around to visit cultural figures like Christkind and Belsnickel, and watch the Christmas tree lighting in the town square too.
Zoar Lake Ohio
Zoar Lake lies just a short distance from the historic village, offering yet another beautiful natural spot for outdoor activities. From picnicking on the beach to looking for interesting plant and animal life, Zoar Lake is the perfect spot for a visit during the warm months.
It’s also a popular spot for angling game fish like bass, carp, gills, and more. Additionally, the lake is close to the Zoar Wetlands Arboretum, where you can spot other native animal life in a beautiful protected ecosystem.
Best Restaurants in Zoar Ohio
Tin Shop Coffee House is a charming little eatery open daily for breakfast and lunch. Here, you’ll find a variety of specialty coffee drinks, as well as light meals and other treats.
It’s all about classic breakfast and lunch favorites that are elevated enough to make them exciting and modern — like ricotta and cornmeal waffles, hash browns with thyme, loaded potato soup, house mac and cheese, and fresh bakery items.
Lovers of beer and barbecue need to stop into Sublime Smoke Fine BBQ and Craft Brew. This local gem started out as a food truck before blossoming into the full-service restaurant it is today.
Serving wood-fired barbecue and Southern-inspired comfort food, Sublime Smoke also has a full beer menu. Make sure you visit for a regular dinner or one of its many events!
Donnie’s Tavern is a highly rated, family-owned eatery right in downtown Zoar Ohio. The food here is sourced from local farms and fisheries along the Great Lakes and features hearty classics like poutine, shrimp and grits, New York strip, schnitzel, pierogies, and much more. There’s also a full pizza menu, as well as cocktails, house wines, and beer on tap.
Zoar Ohio Restaurants on the Canal
Canal Street Diner, as the name implies, is located right alongside the historic Ohio Erie Canalway. This family-owned diner is all about comfort, from its atmosphere to its menu packed with classic favorites. The diner is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Visitors can choose from menu items such as roast beef, omelets, patty melts and burgers, locally-caught perch, and more. Finish off your meal with a slice of homemade pie or a Hershey’s ice cream bar, and stop by the bakery for some freshly-baked bread.
Towpath Tavern, located in nearby Bolivar, is a canal-adjacent casual eatery featuring classic pub fare. Visitors might enjoy picking and choosing from the extensive starters menu, with pub classics like Bavarian pretzels, loaded fries, onion rings, potato skins, spicy breaded cheese curds, nachos, and more.
The dinner menu features soups, sandwiches, build-your-own burgers, locally-caught fish specials, and a wide variety of steaks. Like every good tavern, Towpath has an extensive drink menu in a comfortable hometown setting.
There’s nothing like finding the perfect local pizza joint while traveling. When you’re in Zoar Ohio, stop by Bolivar Pizza. This highly rated, canal-adjacent pizzeria is nestled in historic downtown Bolivar, serving housemade pizzas, salads, subs, chicken, calzones, and appetizers.
Pizza specials and topping change regularly, although classic options are always available. This simple but excellent hometown pizzeria is the perfect place for some comfort food.
Bed and Breakfasts In & Near Zoar Ohio
The Cobbler Shop is a charming bed and breakfast located in the center of Zoar’s historic village. This stunning 19th-century building retains most of its original architecture, making you feel like you’ve been whisked away to a bygone era.
This distinctively peaceful and relaxing place to stay has several beautiful and comfortable rooms and a home-cooked breakfast. Each room has its own stunning decorations, giving you a unique experience each time you visit.
The building includes an antique shop in the original cobbler shop. There, you can find one-of-a-kind 19th-century items from art to furniture, china, and more.
The Keeping Room Bed & Breakfast is another beautiful historic home in downtown Zoar Village. Built in 1877, the building is newer than many of the others in the area but still features 150 years of history, including some of the most stunning rooms that you will find anywhere in Northern Ohio.
Despite the historic setting, The Keeping Room offers modern amenities for a truly luxurious stay — Wi-Fi, desserts served in the evening, DVDs, and a delicious hot breakfast every morning. Visitors are welcome to explore the house and stroll through the attached antique shop to find treasures.
Garver House Bed & Breakfast is one of the most beautiful places to stay in the Zoar area. Located in nearby Strasburg, this 1902 historic structure lies on the edge of Amish Country, and its comfort and beauty reflect the environment.
The house features two beautiful rooms. You can enjoy a homemade breakfast and an old-fashioned tea in the tea room, as well as a massage in the house’s spa parlor.
Or, explore the elaborate old rooms — original fireplaces, wallpaper, and other features. But don’t think that you’ll be sacrificing modern amenities because Garver House features central air, Wi-Fi, DVD players, and other personal conveniences.
The Founding & History of Zoar Village
In 1817, a group of 200 Separatists from Wurttemberg Germany founded the Town of Zoar in an effort to escape religious persecution in their homeland.
Later known as the Society of Separatists of Zoar (aka Zoarites), they arrived in this small, rural Northeast Ohio area with a desire to purchase land and live out their Pietist beliefs.
The Pietism movement demanded a purer, moral life and did not believe in many of the state church’s Lutheran beliefs. For example, Zoarites were punished for not sending their children to the Lutheran-run schools and believed many of the new hymns were too worldly.
Their desire was to worship God by their own definition, without persecution. Early founders chose to name the town Zoar, the name of Lot’s biblical refuge (Genesis 11).
A Communal Society
Because of economic hardships, the Zoarites believed that communal living was their best chance at survival.
Leader Joseph Bimeler, 53 men, and 104 women signed the Articles of Association, essentially renouncing all their rights to property ownership and agreeing to live by the regulations of the communal society.
The society believed that signing this document was in support of their Christian faith, which was to live out the concept of Christian love and support of the common interest.
Some of their beliefs included gender equality, pacifism, and anti-slavery sentiments. These were common beliefs as part of utopian groups.
In 1822, the communal society adopted a policy of celibacy out of economic necessity. In order to pay off their debt of the land, they needed all able hands, so caring for infants and children would limit the number of women who could work.
Even though the policy was lifted in 1830, it seemed Zoarites didn’t mind this rule because they believed marital relations to be a “necessary evil.”
Zoar village had the following buildings — a church, a bakery, a tin shop, a blacksmith shop, a store furniture shop, weaving houses, sewing houses, a pottery, multiple mills, a brewery, a large garden, a greenhouse, and residences.
Family Unit Food Rations
Lined up in a row, on top of a counter, are neat piles of coffee, sugar, flour, and grain. Each pile contains enough food for every member of each family unit. At the end of the day, one member of each family would gather at the Assembly House and be awarded food for their family’s labors.
School & Family Jobs
Those ages 3 to 14 would spend the day in the community’s school. Everyone else was expected to meet once a week and find out what the family job would be. The jobs were anything from threshing wheat to baking bread.
These jobs were for the benefit of the entire society. No one was a lone island; everyone worked together, played together, lived together, ate together, and worshipped together. They were part of one of the most successful communal settlements in American history — the Society of the Separatists of Zoar.
In 1832, the State of Ohio allowed the Zoarites to conduct business, pass laws, and own common property. Then, they adopted a constitution with 1,824 articles. The constitution outlined their democratic process for elections, membership rules, and membership categories.
An example of one of these articles was that if someone wanted to join Zoar, they had to participate in a one-year probationary period. If voted in, they were allowed to join.
In another effort to pay off their debts, the Zoarites spent a large part of the 1820s helping dig 7 miles of the Erie Canal. The village received many visitors, because of its proximity to the canal, and some of the visitors were simply there out of curiosity.
In 1833, the Zoar Hotel was erected to accommodate canal travelers. A huge expansion project was completed in 1892 that doubled its size with a Queen Anne addition. In 1882, a railroad station opened up in Zoar, making it even easier for visitors to come.
“Public curiosity always has demanded news about communitarian groups and the movements that spawn them.
“Their unorthodox beliefs and practices, isolated and sometimes mysterious or threatening character, potential solutions to societal and metaphysical problems, and the secrets of their economic strengths and weaknesses perpetually attract attention.”Powers & Andrus, 2013
The Society’s Rise & Disbandment
The community prospered for many years in agriculture and industry. Joseph Bimeler reinvested many of the community’s profits in society enterprises, and by 1853, the society’s holdings were valued at more than a million dollars.
After he died, the practice of reinvesting the profits stopped. Economic decline and internal dissension led to their disbandment in 1898.
The Ohio History Connection acquired many of the properties and restored them to preserve the nucleolus of the village.
The Significance of Zoar Village
Utopians believed life was better and more economically stable within their groups than in the main society of the country. It’s estimated that there were 270 utopian communities in the United States between 1787 and 1919, including the Shakers and Mormons. Not many survived as long as the Zoarites, nor with as much success.
Zoar Village is significant for two main reasons — Its themes of 19th-century social history and utopian movements; and its Germanic architectural heritage.
“The Period of Significance extends from 1817 to 1898. The Zoar Historic District is an intact example of an early 1800s utopian community. Its architecture and well-documented history reflect the village’s important contributions to the understanding of communal societies of 19th century America.
“The exceptional integrity of the architecture and setting of the village serves as an intact physical legacy of the Zoar community.”Powers & Andrus, 2013
The Architecture & Food Storage
Because the Zoarites were from Germany, the properties constructed to be part of the village have uniquely German (and European) details. For example, flat clay roofing tile, known as “beaver-tail” was commonly used in Southern Germany. This tile was manufactured between the 1820s and 1840s and was used on several of the buildings in the village.
Another example of German influence was how they stored their food. They constructed vaulted stone cellars under many buildings, and construction techniques like this were found in Rottenacker and Wurttemberg Germany, where many of the original Zoarites lived.
Social & Utopian Movements
Themes of 19th-century social history and utopian movements are one of the main reasons this village is significant. For example, the United States (and specifically Ohio) provided this community with freedom of religion.
The Zoarites were able to live out their unique traditions and religious beliefs in Ohio, without persecution from the German Lutherans of their homeland. This pattern of seeking religious freedom is seen throughout American history.
At a time when women were beginning to band together for the cause of suffrage, this society’s view toward gender quality and the role of women was unique. It treated women as equals.
In fact, some outsiders would criticize the women of Zoar Ohio for having “stout arms.” Women were expected to do the same work as men, so their “strong arms” came from threshing wheat.
Zoar Village Today
The Village of Zoar has retained much of the original historic structures and buildings, as well as the famous Zoar Garden. The historic buildings are part of a site maintained by the Zoar Community Association in partnership with the Ohio History Connection.
“While Zoar has some historic sites with interpretive components, they are limited, and the community does not feel like a museum, but rather a functioning rural village that is primarily residential in character.”Powers & Andrus, 2013
Admission to walk through the buildings part of the living museum costs $8. However, there are still 75 families who live in some of the homes around the main part of the village. These homes were built between 1817 and present day.
Save & Preserve Historic Zoar
Unfortunately, the town was threatened with extinction in the early 2000s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discovered that persistent flooding problems were due to a deteriorating levee.
The levee was constructed in the 1930s, and the engineers recommended allowing it to fail and flood the village. In 2012, though, the village was placed on an annual list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Zoar Community Association began a campaign to “Save Historic Zoar” which was successful. Now, it runs under the campaign “Preserve Historic Zoar.”
National Recognition as a Landmark
More recently, Zoar Village has received recognition in many ways.
In 2016, the village was named a National Historic Landmark, which makes it one of 73 in Ohio. In May, it made the list of best small towns to visit in 2017 by Smithsonian Magazine. Zoar Ohio was also featured in issues of Early American Life and Timeline Magazine.
Zoar Village has erected four Ohio Historical Markers outside the following buildings/areas — Garden, Cemetery, Town Hall, and Meeting House. Each one is unique and tells important details about the village.
According to Ohio History Connection, there are over 1,500 unique markers throughout Ohio that “tell the state’s history as written by its communities” (Ohiohistory.org).
These historic markers represent important people, places, and events that shaped the state of Ohio’s history. The markers in Zoar Ohio not only tell the stories that have shaped the small community but also how the village has impacted Ohio and, in turn, the rest of the United States.
Baker, J. (2017, May 20). Zoar celebrates National Historic Landmark designation at Maifest. Times Reporter. Retrieved from http://www.timesreporter.com/news/20170520/zoar-celebrates-national-historic-landmark-designation-at-maifest
Baker, J. (2017, May 6). Zoar makes Smithsonian list of best small towns to visit in 2017. The Repository. Retrieved July 25, 2017, from http://www.cantonrep.com/news/20170506/zoar-makes-smithsonian-list-of-best-small-towns-to-visit-in-2017
Glaser, S. (2017, May 13). Historic Zoar, Ohio’s one-time communist village, thrives in bicentennial year. The Plain Dealer. Retrieved July 25, 2017, from http://www.cleveland.com/travel/index.ssf/2017/05/historic_zoar_ohios_one-time_c.html
Historic Zoar Village. (n.d.). Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved July 25, 2017, from Historic Zoar Village
Historic Zoar Village. (2017, February 1). Historic Zoar Village featured in magazines. Times Reporter. Retrieved July 25, 2017, from http://www.timesreporter.com/news/20170201/historic-zoar-village-featured-in-magazines
Mansky, J., Johnson, L., & Sparks, J. (2017, May 2). The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2017. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/20-best-small-towns-visit-2017-180962925/
Powers, B., & Andrus, P. (2013). National Register of Historic Places Registration Form – Zoar Village: Zoar State Memorial (pp. 4-41) (United States, United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service).
Rosenberg, G. (n.d.). Historic Zoar Village. Retrieved July 25, 2017, from http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/historic-zoar-village
Stephens, S. (2017, May 28). Ticket to Write: Zoar Village an ex-‘utopia’ with charm. Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved from http://www.dispatch.com/entertainmentlife/20170528/ticket-to-write-zoar-village-ex-utopia-with-charm