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Historic Zoar Village may have to move
Moving dozens of two-century old buildings to higher ground may be a much less expensive option than repairing a weakened levee
by WKSU's AMANDA RABINOWITZ


Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
 
The village still looks as it did as a 19th century communal society. Everything centers on the village garden – homes, the blacksmith shop, the bakery and boys’ dormitory.
Courtesy of Amanda Rabinowitz
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After nearly 200 years in Northeast Ohio’s Tuscarawas County, historic Zoar Village may have to pick up and leave. A 75-year-old levee surrounding the village is seeping. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says moving the dozens of the two-century old buildings of Zoar to higher ground may be a much less expensive option than repairing the levee. That’s prompting remaining Zoarites to fight to preserve their  heritage – and geography.

Zoar Village history and geography threatened

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Tourist community threatened

The Village of Zoar was founded in 1817 by a group of German immigrants escaping religious intolerance in their own country. The village still looks as it did as a 19th century communal society. Everything centers on the village garden – homes, the  blacksmith shop, the bakery and boys’ dormitory. The Ohio Historical Society owns many of the buildings that are open for tours, and about 175 residents live in some of the historic homes. But a levee that was built in the 1930’s to protect the village from flooding has weakened, and that’s prompting the US Army Corps of Engineers to consider moving the village altogether.

Bev Crank is a volunteer who gives tours of the village and its buildings. She says the Zoarites’ way of life in the early 1800’s. She says they made bricks and built their homes with stone, clay and wood. Crank says moving the village would be devastating. "They built these buildings to be here forever. It’s just got so much character and charm and history. You can’t compare it to actually walking on the sidewalks, or on the paths that the Separatists walked on."


US Army Corps of Engineers study 

The Corps has begun a two-year study to evaluate whether to repair the levee. Estimates range up to 100 million dollars or more. Or it could move the buildings to higher ground. And razing the village altogether is another option, though much less likely. The Corps’ Aaron Smith says he welcomes the publics’ input to come up with the best solution. "We know there’s historic properties at risk, what’s the value of the structures at risk, what are other resources that are at risk and we’re really trying to forecast what would happen if we didn’t take action. And then from there, we work to formulate a broad range of alternatives, actually anything that’s reasonable whatsoever."

Campaign to fix the levee 

The Zoar Community Association promotes and preserves the village. It’s launched a campaign to encourage the Corps to spend the money to fix the levee. Jon Elsasser says Zoar matters – and not just to the people who live there. "The story is pretty much the story of America. People that were persecuted in Europe, seeking religious and economic freedom, they sacrificed including being celibate for five or six years. They sacrificed basically to come to a wilderness here and really become I would say one of the top successful communal societies in the United States."

Zoar Village is on the National Register of Historic Places, and 27 Zoar buildings have been catalogued by the federal government in the Historic American Buildings Survey. Elsasser says moving the hand-hewn timber-and-stone buildings would be the equivalent of destroying them. "A lot of these buildings have some very interesting cellars; they’ve got arched, vaulted celings, like you might see in Europe. To take something like the No. 1 House, a beautiful house with these vaulted cellars and then put it on a concrete block foundation, wouldn’t really be very historically significant."

Elsasser says his group is working to raise $50,000 to fund its awareness campaign. And he says it’s started the process of getting the village on the National Historic Landmarks list, which would give it more standing. But that process could take up to five years.

Flooding  

Zoar resident Scott Gordon is a direct decedent of the Separatists’ society. Gordon and his family have seen Zoar flood many times over the years. Rising waters cut it off in 2005 and 2008. "They came around and told us that you have to make a decision to stay here or move out, because all of the roads are going to be flooded. And they were flooded for I think, 3 days total." Gordon has joined the effort to preserve the history of the village. "We try to pass it on to our grandkids when they visit …if you move Zoar, say you reverse the south side of Zoar becomes the north side of Zoar, how can I be authentic anymore?"

Public Meeting

The Corps will hold a public meeting on the issue next Tuesday, November 15th
7:00 - 10:00 pm
The Zoar School House
Foltz Street between 5th and 4th Street
Zoar Village, Ohio 4469 

The Corps' Aaron Smith says the public can contact him at 304-399-5720 or by email at zoarlevee@usace.army.mil


Related Links & Resources
US Army Corps of Engineers Huntington District

Save Historic Zoar

Zoar Community Association


Related WKSU Stories

Northern Tuscarawas County flooding is raising concerns
Monday, March 24, 2008

Flooding Traps Residents in Northern Tuscarawas Cities
Friday, January 14, 2005

Listener Comments:

On my single visit to Zoar, I was bowled over by the number of original buildings and their state of preservation. The very geography of the tiny town near the banks of the Tuscarawas River was astonishing. But what really struck me most was the levee that nearly encircles the south and west side of the village. It's nearly as tall as the buildings and ominously near the old inn and hotel. If there's a major threat of that levee breaking, it would flood most of the community and probably destroy many of the buildings. But moving the village? That, too, would be destructive. I'd want to know a lot more about how often the Tuscarawas floods, how much levee leakage there is, and what the prospects are for federal funding before I made that decision. What a terrible conundrum for this unique Ohio community.


Posted by: Anonymous on November 10, 2011 10:11AM
My grandmother, Alice Breymaier Hall, was born in 1888 in the No. 13 House. I can remember many Easters walking in the gardens. Zoar is a part of my life and now I am bringing my grandchildren to Zoar to see their roots. I can not see how moving the houses is an option. You can feel the vibrations of the past generations as you walk the streets and go through the houses. Can you not just take your chances and stay there?

Susan Lucas


Posted by: Susan Lucas (Lexington, KY) on November 10, 2011 8:11AM
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