This collection includes over 1,500 items used by the historic residents of Zoar, a small community in Tuscarawas County founded by a group of German separatists in 1817. The group's leader, Joseph Bimeler (sometimes spelled Bäumeler), decided to bring the separatists to the United States to escape persecution in their native country. They chose to name their new town "Zoar" after the Biblical account of Lot, who escaped to Zoar from Sodom in the book of Genesis. The community of Zoar was not originally organized as a commune, but its residents had a difficult time surviving in 1818 and early 1819. As a result, on April 19, 1819, the group formed the Society of Separatists of Zoar. Each person donated his or her property to the community as a whole, and in exchange for their work, the society would provide for them.
In the decades following the establishment of the Zoar commune, the separatists experienced economic prosperity. The community was almost entirely self-sufficient and sold any surpluses to the outside world. In addition to agriculture, Zoar residents also worked in a number of industries, including flour mills, textiles, a tin shop, cooper, wagon maker, two iron foundries, and several stores. Over time, though, the outside world influenced the community more and more, as strangers traveled to Zoar and stayed in the town's hotel. In 1898, the remaining members decided to dissolve the society, and the Zoarites divided the property among themselves. It was the end to the communistic experience at Zoar. Throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Zoar has continued to exist as a small town in rural eastern Ohio. Today, the Ohio Historical Society operates a portion of the town as a historic site, where a number of the Zoarite buildings are restored and open to the public.