What is this that propels us through time? 
Cosmologists say that it is an illusion. We find that
time is irreversible because events like conversion of
motion into randomness (like heat) is irreversible. We
are so close to the beginning of the Universe that
this effect looms large and this is, they say, why
time moves on. 
     In my youth, I knew nineteenth century people.
They were quite old then; my never-married aunt
Elizabeth and her bridge friends were fine, nineteenth
century people, the last passing away but a few years
ago. As I pass a room full of newborns at the
hospital, I realize that a couple of these novice
humans will be alive in the year 2101.  We are not
that far removed in time from people who knew of a
living George Washington, or who saw Abraham Lincoln’s
funeral train. I was learning to walk when Confederate
veterans met for the last time in New Orleans, a city
itself that was doomed.
     Zoar, from about 1820 to the close of the 19th
century, was a pacifist communal religious community
north of New Philadelphia, Ohio.  Untouched by
mid-20th century real estate speculation, the houses
and gardens are still there, as well as
not-too-distant descendants of the original settlers
who still live in them.  Although many buildings are
now owned by the Ohio Historical Society, it might be
said that Zoar slowly moved from a religious community
to its present state and still has many aspects of
the original German religious separatist flavor.  In
the summer of 2003, while on assignment to Kent’s New
Philadelphia campus, I rented a log cabin, built in
the 1820s, in historical Zoar.  The Zoar Community
Association still is very influential in the operation
of the town; I was a member.
     The Zoar Society of Separatists began in the
confusion of post-Napoleonic Germany; they refused to
attend German schools or allow their children to be
soldiers in the armies of the German states, such as
ascendant militaristic Prussia. Thus they were
considered criminals. They found refuge in Württemberg
for twelve years, but political forces changed and
they were soon forced to head to America. Sadly, the
original founder, an older woman, died before the
passage. Arriving in Philadelphia in 1817, some
Quakers, for which they shared many doctrinal views,
assisted them in locating land in Ohio and this is
where they went.  The town they founded they called
Zoar, after the town that welcomed Lot after his
flight from the doomed Sodom.
      The Society of Separatists realized the best way
to prosper was to be communal, so all land was placed
in deed for all. Their elected leader was Joseph
Bimiller, originally Baumeler, and he was by all
accounts a wise one.  Usually one hears of such
religious leaders succumbing to greed, or, paranoia,
such as Jim Jones. Bimiller had none of these traits,
and it is hard to find one selfish act in his long
tenure. One of his first acts was to build a large
house in Georgian style, one of the best houses west
of Fort Pitt; this was for the elderly of Zoar as they
became unable to work.  The Zoarites were so practical
and thrifty, and abstained from the vicissitudes of
alcohol and war, that soon they were collectively
wealthy and rather happy.  Unlike the Harmonists, who
ran a similar operation in Pennsylvania, the Zoarites
were not celibate and set about making a society that
was industrious and practical. 
     At the close of the century the Zoarites
de-communized, that is, came about a way of dividing
the property among themselves.  Every single member of
the community had to agree to the plan, and it is said
there was one long-time holdout who was finally
They continued to live and worship much as they did,
except their land was now privately held and could be
sold by individual holders.  
     In the 20th century, the Zeebs, who owned and
lived in the cabin I later rented, sold the cabin to a
physician who then later sold it to a non-descendant
who was my landlord. 
He himself had the cabin for sale, but for a high
price, since he was not anxious to sell it.
I was fortunate to rent it during the week.
    The passage of time is marked by the trees. From a
book, Communistic Societies of the United States by
Charles Nordhoff, 1875, we see Nordhoff’s sketch of
the Zoar school in 1875, children are playing marbles
in front of it; two children stand near a small
evergreen.  In 2006, the evergreen still exists, and
the school still exists (although it is used for craft
classes and a meeting hall), but the evergreen is
much, much larger.  Similarly the trees by the church
show the passage of 128 years. Someone old today when
very young knew those children when they were very
    Although the ever-practical Zoarites would have
not liked science and mathematics for its theoretical
charm but would have wanted the practical aspects of
such spelled out before appreciating it, they achieved
something that social theorists only dream of.  Said
the erudite Nordhoff: “When I saw how much roughness
there is in the country people [surrounding Zoar], I
concluded that … [the people of Zoar] were a step
higher, more decent, more free of disagreeables, and
upon a higher moral scale, than the average life of
the surrounding community.” 
      I think this is because the Zoarites had
discovered, through the bypass of religious faith, the
value of human dignity.  Certainly, other faiths have
discovered it.  The Hadassic Jewish philosopher Martin
Buber in his book, "I, Thou" indicates that the root
of all evil is the ability to use other people as mere
objects, with no boundaries as to their intrinsic
rights and dignities.  Commenting on John Paul II’s
encyclical "Centesimus Annus", Bishop Donald Wuerl, in
the Pittsburgh Catholic, states: “The dignity of all
humans does not derive from any achievement,
accomplishment, productivity, or external talent or
attribute. We are created in the image and likeness of
God and…as such, every human from the moment of
conception until natural death is to be cherished and
considered worthy of reverence and respect.”  Wuerl
quotes St. Irenaeus (120-202):”The glory of God is
the human person fully alive.”
     But while such discoveries have been found in
other faiths, the Zoarites actually achieved a
community where human dignity and respect was
recognized and the prosperity and stability that goes
with it.  There were no hangings in Zoar; they did
not go to war and recorded a welcome to Native
Americans who were nearby in the early days.  I was
unable to locate in the record a single murder over
the course of a century.  As for their communism, it
was an economic mode required when a group of people
are starting out with very little, and was agreed to
by all.  Capitalism, after all, requires capital.
     There is much to value in the seven-pointed Zoar
star. The Zoarites achieved stability; so even through
the tumultuous 20th century the buildings of their
town, and much of the town’s residents and values,
remained. The central garden in still tended.  A
descendant operated the very hotel Nordhoff stayed in
until the 1970s; the exterior is now restored but it
no longer is a hotel. 
    “Human nature won’t change,” we hear.  And so we
content ourselves to dream of such places as Zoar and
awaken to a rat race. In 2003 I awakened from my
disillusionment and found myself in a cabin in Zoar.
F. Graham. < >
Zoar, Ohio Web Site

Zoar Community Association Web Site

Ohio Historical Society Web Site on Zoar Village

Zoar, Ohio Entry in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.