The Regional Review

Volume VI - Nos. 5 & 6

May-June, 1941



Ohio's first town today stands restored as a unique memorial in a world cluttered up with graven testimonials to the memories of conquerors. Instead this restored village of Schoenbrunn - "Beautiful Spring" - is dedicated to religion and culture and peace.

Reconstructed Schoenbrunn Village

Schoenbrunn Village was founded in 1772 by David Zeisberger, quiet Moravian missionary to the Indians, and his white and Indian companions. The first school and first church west of the Alleghenies were erected in the Moravian village, and here the Indians were taught the story of Christianity and were induced to renounce war and its pomps. As a result they endured much the same persecution incurred by their prototypes under the Roman Empire.

Zeisberger came to the Ohio country from Pennsylvania to find a refuge for his Pennsylvania Indian converts and to further carry on his missionary work in this virgin territory. After preaching the first Protestant sermon in Ohio, near Newcomerstown, he went to a site on the Tuscarawas River and established Schoenbrunn. At the height of its existence Schoenbrunn contained 60 cabins in addition to numerous huts and tepees, as well as a school, a church and a cemetery.

Zeisberger was quite successful in his missionary until the beginning of the American Revolution when the Schoenbrunners' disclaimer of violence placed the town in the untenable position of a buffer territory between the British at Detroit and the Americans at Pittsburgh. Then early in 1777 the Shawnees resolved to join the British and the non-Christian Munsees were determined to destroy the missions and murder the missionaires and Christian Indians.

Bearing in mind Article 19 of the statutes they had adopted - "we will not go to war, and will not buy anything of warriors taken in war" -- Zeisberger and a company of his Indian converts met in the church on April 19, 1777. After a short service, they'all knelt while Zeisberger offered a prayer committing the company to the protection of God and interceding with Heaven for their enemies, the Munsees.

Then tearfully they razed the church to the ground and abandoned Schoenbrunn. Later in the same year, hostile Indians incited by the British burned the entire village, and brought to a tragic end the most dramatic mission to the Indians before the close of the eighteenth century.

Years after the burning of the village, when white settlers found their way into what is now Tuscarawas County, Indian Mission sites were among the first occupied, as the land was cleared. The location of the "Beautiful Spring" was known since the earliest settlement, but for 146 years crops were planted and harvested on the village site without its significance being known.

The movement that led to the re-discovery of Schoenbrunn was begun by Rev. J. E. Weinland, a Moravian Minister of Dover, Ohio. In 1923 he was inspired with the urge to find the lost village. His two close friends, Luther and O. J. Demuth, caught the spirit of the quest and worked with him until the project was brought to a successful conclusion.

Schoenbrunn Church
Schoenbrunn Church - a replica of the first Protestant Church west of Pennsylvania

The relocation of the village was easily accomplished by means of the Moravian Archives. A rule of that church requires that a copy of the yearly record of each missionary be sent to the headquarters of the church in Bethelehem, Pennsylvania, where they are carefully preserved. Among these records Mr. Weinland found a nearly complete diary kept by David Zeisberger during the existence of Schoenbrunn Village from 1772 to 1777. Every burial, every marriage, every baptism, and every reception in the church was recorded. Together with other records, the diary constituted a valuable mine of information concerning the people who lived then, their manner of living, the buildings, and the local history of Tuscarawas County during that period.

In addition to the diary there was also a map drawn by the village founders. With the aid of the map and with the Beautiful Spring as a starting point, Mr. Weinland and the Demuths were able to locate one of the cabin sites within 45 minutes. Encouraged by such success they then proceeded to plow up a cornfield. Soon the fire places of the remaining cabins were located. A complete and accurate record was kept as they worked. But the workers were not completely satisfied, however, for they desired primarily to locate the church-the key site to the village. Dr. William C. Mills, Director of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society came to their assistance, and on September 4, 1923, the church fireplace was uncovered. From the moment of this discovery the task of relocating the village was simple.

church interior
Interior of the church which was reconstructed in 1928.

By using the church site as a key to the map, search was immediately begun for the burial ground. A few days later a skeleton was uncovered and Henry C. Shetrone, Archaeologist of the State Museum was called in for consultation. Examination disclosed that the skeleton was that of an Indian. Further findings determined beyond doubt that the project was much larger than this small group could handle. It was realized that the relocation and restoration of Schoenbrunn Village was more than a local project--that it was larger than New Philadelphia and Tuscarawas County - that it was nationwide in significance. A bill presented to the Ohio Legislature in 1923 resulted in gaining state recognition to the amount of $10,000 to purchase the village site. In 1925, $7500 more were appropriated, and in 1927 an appropriation of $15,000 was made for the reconstruction of 20 cabins. Schebosch cabin, the first building to be reconstructed was finished in 1927. Dating from that year, various units were added until the cabins now number 13, and the important units of the church, the school, and the cemetery are reconconstructed along the same lines that Zeisberger built them in 1772.

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Date: 04-Jul-2002