It Takes a Village: New Legislation and Creative Partnerships at the Village of Zoar

Posted on: October 3rd, 2012 by Jennifer Sandy

Zoar helps tell the story of immigration to the United States. | Photo: Ohio Historical Society

With only 196 residents, the village of Zoar may be small, but it has a growing number of advocates stepping up to help save the historic community--including some friends in Congress. Located along the Tuscarawas River in northeast Ohio, the village of Zoar is protected by flooding from a levee built in the 1930s. However, record floods in 2005 have raised concern about the levee’s integrity. The Army Corps of Engineers is considering several options including removing the levee entirely, which could require the relocation or demolition of 80 percent of this remarkable community.

On September 20, 2012, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced bipartisan legislation that seeks to protect the village of Zoar as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers examines options to manage the town’s aging levee. The National Trust had an early opportunity to offer input as the legislation was drafted. The bill would require the Army Corps to preserve the historic integrity of Zoar in any study or construction related to the village’s levee.

The National Trust joined the fight to save the historic village of Zoar in June 2012, when it chose the community as one of our National Treasures and included it on the list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Founded in 1817 by a group of German separatists, the village of Zoar was one of America’s most successful communal settlements and is listed in the National Register at the national level of significance.

Zoar is an island of Old-World charm in east-central Ohio. | Photo: Andy Donaldson

In designating Zoar as a National Treasure, the National Trust’s goal is to save the village from catastrophic flooding, relocation, or demolition. A key strategy is to public awareness about Zoar’s historic significance. The legislation introduced by Senators Brown and Portman helps our work in both areas. The bill would require the Army Corps to find a solution that maintains the historic integrity of the village, preventing Zoar’s relocation or demolition while bringing national attention to the site.

In Senator Brown’s words: “This legislation ensures that Zoar is protected by requiring the U.S. Army of Corps to preserve its historic integrity—either while studying the levee, or while rebuilding it. There is widespread, bipartisan support for protecting Zoar, and I am committed to ensuring that this extraordinary village remains intact.”

Partnerships and Strategies

While this legislation is a positive and exciting development, it is just one aspect of layered, strategic, and ongoing efforts involving a variety of partners. As part of a multi-year study of alternatives for addressing issues with the Zoar levee, the Army Corps has initiated consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The long list of consulting parties to the Section 106 undertaking includes the National Trust, Heritage Ohio, the Village of Zoar, Zoar Community Association, Ohio Historical Society, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and others.

Ohio Historical Society Executive Director Burt Logan speaks at the press conference announcing Zoar Village as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, with the 1835 Garden House providing the backdrop. | Photo: Christie Chapman, Ohio History Service Corps member with Heritage Ohio (an AmeriCorps program funded by ServeOhio, Ohio’s commission on service and volunteerism)

The work of these partners does not stop with the Section 106 review, however. Through monthly--and occasionally even more frequent--meetings these partners have worked extensively to coordinate efforts and unify local, state, and national preservation voices to save Zoar. An Awareness Team focuses specifically on letting the public know about the threats to Zoar and the importance of this special place. By dividing work among the various partner organizations, each group has a specific role to play in the broader effort to preserve the village. Frequent contact with the Army Corps staff tasked with working on the study has also been instrumental to forming and maintaining positive working relationships among all partners.

A key milestone in the outreach effort was inclusion of the village of Zoar on this year’s America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. A press conference was held in the Zoar Garden, and the listing received widespread coverage around Ohio and even nationally, in more than 20 different media outlets.

Another great opportunity to reach a large number of supporters arose this August when Zoar hosted its popular Harvest Festival, attended by several thousand visitors. The Awareness Team developed and printed thousands of pre-addressed postcards  for attendees to sign and send to the Army Corps, expressing support for saving Zoar. Following the festival weekend, the Army Corps received more than 400 postcards from the public--nearly twice as many comments as it received during the first year of the study, prior to National Trust involvement. All of these public comments feed into the Army Corps’ compliance with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations and are key to advocating for a levee repair alternative that does not threaten Zoar’s historic integrity.

Zoar is currently home to nearly 200 residents. | Photo: Tom Bower

This successful outreach effort is only one piece of the overall strategy. At each historic site in Zoar that is open to the public, staff and volunteers tell visitors about the threat to the village and provide form letters and postcards so that people can send their support for saving Zoar directly to the Army Corps. Additionally, the National Trust created an online form for people to send emails to the Army Corps, and the project partners maintain Facebook pages and websites to keep the public informed. The Village erected a “Save Historic Zoar” sign in the town’s central garden, which led to an article in The New York Times after a passing reporter happened to notice the sign and contacted supporters to learn more about the threat. The Awareness Team is also reaching out to local schools and applying for grants to develop a multi-year outreach strategy. Through this multifaceted approach, the Awareness Team hopes to broaden the base of support for protecting Zoar.

Along with continuing Section 106 consultation, the new legislation and expanded outreach efforts are important components of the National Trust’s ongoing, multi-year campaign to save Zoar. The National Trust and coalition partners will continue working to ensure that Zoar remains a vibrant historic community whose importance is recognized and protection is assured. For more information and continued updates, please visit and find out how you can help save this National Treasure.


Jennifer Sandy is a Field Officer in the Chicago Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

National Treasure, Rural