And it can be found in Historic Zoar Village. A peaceful, three-acre garden in the center of the 18-century German village is considered by some to be Ohio’s Eden. The incredible beauty of the garden and the story behind the design give some credence to that idea.
The village of Zoar, Ohio was founded in 1817 by a group of about 300 people fleeing persecution by the state-sponsored church in Württemberg, Germany. After a couple of difficult years in a new land, the village residents decided to form a communal society so that everyone would be taken care of, regardless of age or physical ability. Their way of life lasted for around eighty years, making Zoar one of the nation’s longest lasting communal settlements.
For the Separatists, the Zoar Garden was a public manifestation of their faith. It was laid out geometrically in a very specific manner to represent the New Jerusalem as described in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 21. Visitors to the Garden today will see the same layout, carefully preserved for more than two centuries.
A large spruce tree in the center represents Christ, or everlasting life. It is also known as the “Tree of Life.” Surrounding the spruce are twelve smaller trees representing the Apostles of Christ. Radiating out from each small tree is a path representing one of the twelve tribes of the Children of Israel. An outer path that covers the perimeter of the Garden represents the world. Smaller paths crisscross the area between the outer path and the radiating paths. The story goes that these smaller paths represent the many paths people take during their lives, and the many ways they get sidetracked and lured away from a direct path to God. But no matter what paths a person chooses, there is always a way to get back to a path that leads to God and eternal life with him in Heaven.
Fruits, vegetables, and culinary and medicinal herbs were grown in the garden for the village residents. But it was primarily lush with flowers. It provided residents and visitors with a beautiful place to relax. This “lustgarden,” or “Garden of Happiness” was being touted by travelers who made their way to Zoar as early as 1829.
The Society of Separatists of Zoar disbanded in 1898, as outside influences brought to the village by way of the Ohio & Erie Canal and the advent of railroad travel. When the Society dissolved the center tree in the garden died. In the early 1900s, the garden was plowed under and for many years there were no flowers. Fortunately, the Garden was brought back to life, returning the beauty and tranquility of the original Garden of Happiness for both residents and visitors to once again enjoy.
Over the years, the Zoar Garden has become a favorite place for many young couples to tie the knot. It’s also a peaceful place for the local library to hold story time during the summer months.
The Zoar Garden is part of the Historic Zoar Village tour. Visitors to the village will find that the best time to view the Garden is between June and September. Hours of operation in the village vary by season, and the best way to make plans is to hop on their web site at https://historiczoarvillage.com/. The $10 tour ($4 for kids 5-12, free for 4 and under) includes the Garden and the beautiful Garden House, along with as many as six to seven other museums on any given day. If you do decide to visit, just remember that deer like to visit the garden as well, so please close the garden gate behind you.