Tuscarawas County History

The history and heritage of Tuscarawas County are a mixture of exciting chronicles united by common threads of courage and determination. For example, the mysterious mound builders. . . their mounds lying quietly near Bolivar and sprinkled throughout Tuscarawas County. Their presence alone is over whelmingly awesome. People come and stand, staring at them wondering who? Why? and When? Thousands of years ago a people had a dream. Today, they are a mystery.

Our modern Ohio history began just prior to the Revolutionary War. Stirrings and conflict in Europe had a great influence on Ohio Territory, thousands of miles away. Devoted and determined Europeans looking for a better life and refusing to compromise turned their backs on comfort and security and searched for freedom in a "new" land safe from monarchies and tyranny. Nowhere was this more evi dent than in Switzerland where the Amish movement was taking place. in 1693, amid strong persecution by other faiths, an aggressive, young Swiss Brethren bishop named Jakob Ammann began applying pressure for strict conformity. He urged plain dress, full beards for men and shunning as punishment for any Brethren members who breached the rules, married outside the faith or joined another church. Ammann's crusade split the Brethren, and some congregations followed him to America. By 1727, communities started in Pennsylvania. Eventually, some Amish ventured west to Ohio and Indiana.

In 1772, David Zeisberger, a Moravian minister, settled the village of Schoenbrunn ("Beautiful Spring"), attracting a large group of Indian converts to Christianity. Here they built the first church and school west of the Ohio River. After a time, the Christian Deleware Indians departed to build another community called Gnadenhutten, which means Tents of Grace.

The troubled years of the American Revolution saw the destruction of both villages. The Indians Of Schoenbrunn, fearing for their safety, abandoned their settlement in 1777 and moved south to Lichtenau Mission in what is now Coshocton County. The Delawares at Gnadenhutten and Salem were less for- tunate. In 1782, they were attacked and murdered. Only two boys were said to have escaped . . . one without his scalp.

New Philadelphia was founded in 1804 by John Knisely who first visited the Ohio area while deer hunting with his son. Admiring it, he returned to his home in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, sold his possessions and made preparations to move his wife and ten children. He persuaded 33 others to join him, and they started west in the spring of 1804. At Gnadenhutten, Knisley purchased 3,554 acres of land from Godfrey Haga through John Heckewelder, a missionary and land agent for eastern land owners. That acreage embraces most of present-day New Philadelphia. Its carefully planned checkerboard pattern was adapted from that of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 1806, a young bachelor named Christian Deardorff arrived in Ohio Territory with his brother-in-law, Jesse Slingluff, a Baltimore merchant. The pair purchased 2,175 acres for $4,622.00 and began planning a town that eventually became Dover. In 1807, Deardorff filed the plat in Zanesville and returned to a cabin he had erected on a hillside near Sugarcreek. The plat provided for 256 lots arranged in a square. Land at the center was designated for a courthouse and public offices in anticipation that Dover might become the county seat. However, that honor was won by New Philadelphia. The settlement of Zoar tells yet another story. In the spring of 1817, about 200 German peasants arrived in America seeking religious freedom. Among them was Joseph Bimeler, a young, intelligent and resourceful man. With assistance from friendly Quakers in Philadelphia, he purchased 5,500 acres of land on credit in Tuscarawas County and led the band of peasants to a settlement named Zoar. Arriving too late to plant and harvest many crops, they faced the coming winter with insufficient food. They survived only through the intervention of a stranger who sent provisions enough to last the winter. The identity of this stranger remains a mystery.

At first, the settlers of Zoar tried to live independently. When this was unsuccessful, they joined together to establish a commune. Each resident renounced private ownership and became an equal owner in everything within the community, right down to the clothes worn! Everything earned went to meet common needs and to buy land.

When the Ohio Canal passed through Zoar, women of the community helped dig and haul away the dirt. The money they earned went to buy more land. Soon the community became wealthy. The commune owned 9,000 acres of rich land, a large hotel, tannery, iron mill, saw mill, flour mill, cabinet shop, blacksmith shop, bakery, cider mill and a variety of livestock. In addition, they had money in the bank and all were equally prosperous.

Toward the end of the century, the youth of Zoar grew tired of the lifestyle. They wanted to be free to do as they pleased, earn money of their own, buy clothes of their own and purchase their own land and property. Because of this unrest, in 1898, the community was dissolved and property divided. For some, poor management soon left them destitute. For many, however, this was an advantage and they lived on as before.

Construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal in 1825 brought people and progress to the Tuscarawas Valley. Communities along the canal like Dover and New Philadelphia prospered on the trade of agricultural produce and livestock. The canal thrived until the coming of the railroads in the mid-1800's when it gradually faded and eventually was abandoned. It was completely destroyed by the flood of 1913.

Today, Tuscarawas County lives on with the same strengths those early settlers displayed. The cities of Dover and New Philadelphia and the communities of Dennison, Uhrichsville, Strasburg and Newcomerstown flourish with business and industry.

Communities like Goshen, Tuscarawas, Port Washington, Midvale, Stone Creek and Mineral City present picturesque, small town environments. Towns like Bolivar, built near the sites of the old Indian village of Tuscarawi and Fort Laurens, a fort of the Revolutionary War period, still thrive.

Although the mission settlement of Gnadenhutten is gone, the village of Gnadenhutten, plotted in 1824, still remains, preserving elements of the mission in a museum. Many of the original buildings of Zoar are fully restored and visitors are welcomed. The log buildings of Schoenbrunn are partially restored and preserved as a state park and memorial.

While driving along the many country roads in the area it is easy to imagine what the region was like when it was the western frontier. It has been many years since European settlers first came to Tuscarawas County, but their heritage is found everywhere.

The area was easily accessible, first by road, then river, canal and then by railroad. The many roads that crisscross the area are remnants of older roads that led to the western frontier.

Progress has changed Tuscarawas County, but not its spirit. Courage and determination are still here. In the area surrounding the town of Sugarcreek and stretching into neighboring Holmes County live the Amish. . . a quiet rural people who remain fairly isolated within their communities. Some Amish do leave the faith, but virtually no outsiders enter it. These "plain people" continue their humble way of life as they have done for decades past, letting the modern world pass by unnoticed.

In this unique atmosphere, the old and the new blend in a harmonious and appealing way of life.

Furnished by Gerald Finney

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Last Modified & links checked Friday, 06-Feb-2015 14:53:33 MST