Past perfect

Schoenbrunn Village in Ohio is a partial reconstruction of an 18th-century Delaware Indian mission that calls itself Ohio’s first organized settlement and first Christian settlement.

Tuscarawas County 521 (photo credit: Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)
Tuscarawas County 521
(photo credit: Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)
Schoenbrunn Village in Ohio’s Tuscarawas County is a partial reconstruction of an 18th-century Delaware Indian mission that calls itself Ohio’s first organized settlement and first Christian settlement.
Schoenbrunn and another Indian mission at Gnadenhutten predated Ohio’s first permanent settlement, Marietta, by 15 years. Today Schoenbrunn consists of 17 log buildings, gardens, the original mission cemetery (known as God’s Acre, with 44 stone-marked burials) and a little museum and visitor center.
The village, owned by the Ohio Historical Society, is just southeast of New Philadelphia at the southern terminus of the Ohio and Erie Canal Scenic Byway that runs north through Akron to Cleveland.
The site, one of the state’s venerable sightseeing attractions, draws about 7,000 visitors a year. For many years, it was one of Ohio’s most popular historical sites.
The village was reconstructed as a memorial to the efforts of the Moravian Church missionaries (Moravia is now a part of the Czech Republic) among the Indians.
Schoenbrunn Village, which got its name from the German word for “beautiful spring,” grew to include 60 dwellings with more than 300 inhabitants who drew up Ohio’s first civil code and built its first Christian church and schoolhouse.
The village was abandoned in 1777 during the American Revolution.
A Delaware chief, Netawates, or Newcomer, invited the Moravian missionaries to come to the Tuscarawas Valley on the wild Ohio frontier.
Missionary David Zeisberger led 28 Christian Indians to the Tuscarawas Valley in May 1772 from northeast Pennsylvania, where the church had been active among the Delawares since 1734.
The Delawares, also called the Lenape, originally lived along the Delaware River in New Jersey.
A few months later, the initial band was joined by missionaries John Heckewelder and John Ettwein and 200 converts.
They cleared the land and began farming using tools and implements brought from Pennsylvania. They lived in crude bark huts at first.
Forty lots were laid out in a T-shape because the local topography did not permit the usual cross-shaped design for the town. The school was built in 1772-73, and the church opened in September 1773.
At its peak, the village had about 400 Christian natives representing nine tribes, although most were Delawares. The missionaries made little effort to westernize the Delaware Indians, and most Indian customs and habits remained unchanged.
The converted Indians were guided by their Christian faith and by 18 (later 19) Rules of Government. The town was governed by the missionaries and selected converts called native helpers.
Today the village offers a video orientation, instruction by a costumed interpreter and a self-guided walking tour.
The church and the schoolhouse are the two most impressive structures.
The rebuilt church, the first Protestant church west of Pennsylvania, is still an active Moravian house of worship. It measures about 11 meters by 12 m. with a large fireplace, and could hold about 300 people.
Services were held morning and evening in the Delaware language.
The windows are set low in the walls to allow light in so the congregation could read the Scripture and hymnals. Three paintings hang on the walls, and three chairs are set by the altar for the church leaders. Two candelabra are suspended from the ceiling.
The school offered reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, hygiene and other subjects in the Delaware language. For the Delawares, the school represented the first time they had ever seen their language in written form. Students had to learn to read to follow Scripture and hymns.
At times, there were as many as 100 students in the one-room schoolhouse, both boys and girls. In the school, the Indians were divided into choirs or groups of the same age, gender or marital status.
The missionaries also offered improved agricultural techniques and taught handicrafts to the men of the village.
After the American Revolution broke out, Schoenbrunn Village was caught between the British forces at Fort Detroit and the American forces at Fort Pitt. The Moravians and the peace-loving Delawares refused to take sides and incurred the wrath of both.
In 1777, the village was abandoned, and the church was burned to prevent its desecration.
The Moravians and Delawares resettled further south in another mission, Lichenenau, near Coshocton in east-central Ohio.
It was destroyed by American forces in 1778.
Schoenbrunn Village was forgotten for nearly 150 years. In the early 1920s, a Moravian minister, the Rev. Joseph Weinland of Dover, began researching the lost village.
Church records in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, included plats by Zeisberger and his day-to-day journals, in which he detailed the five-year life of the village.
The Ohio Historical Society acquired the property in 1923 and started an archeological dig. The village was reconstructed from 1927 to 1930. It is managed today for the money-strapped historical society by the Dennison Railroad Depot in southern Tuscarawas County, an agreement that took effect in 2008.
– Akron Beacon Journal/MCT