Reproduction of a photograph depicting the cabin of Joseph M. Bimeler, the first leader of the Society of Separatists of Zoar, as it appeared in 1896. Bimeler lived here from 1817-1820 and it also served as the Society's first meeting house.
Joseph Bimeler was born in 1778. He rose to prominence as the leader of the Separatists, also known as Zoarites, in Württemberg, Germany in the early 1800s. Because the Separatists faced persecution in Germany, Bimeler led members of the group to the United States in 1817. They soon settled in Zoar, Ohio, where they established a communist society. Bimeler continued as one of the Zoarites' leaders until his death in 1853. Although the society struggled at first, it soon became economically prosperous. By the time of Bimeler's death, Zoar's wealth reached more than one million dollars.
In addition to Bimeler's important role in the economic and political matters of Zoar, he was also known for his position as minister. Throughout his life, Bimeler presented many important sermons which helped to clarify the Separatists' core beliefs. After his death, the society published his sermons in a book entitled Discourses. Every Zoarite household owned a copy of the book. Bimeler's sermons reflected the society's belief in a life of moderation and the hope that Jesus Christ would soon be returning to the earth to lead his followers.
After Bimeler's death in 1853, the society of Zoar began to decline. Although the community was still economically prosperous, members' commitment to the society's original goals began to deteriorate in the second half of the nineteenth century. Over time, many of the original residents died. The younger generation did not have memories of the persecution in Europe or of the society's early struggles in Ohio. The outside world influenced the Zoarites more and more, as strangers visited Zoar and stayed in the town's hotel. In 1898, the remaining members decided to dissolve the society and divided up the community's property, ending the communist experience at Zoar.