Ohio village added to endangered historic sites

LISA CORNWELL Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- An historic-place listing announced Wednesday for an eastern Ohio village threatened by flooding, and potentially by flood control efforts, is seen by some as a major step toward saving the nearly 200-year-old community.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation said that Zoar has been named to its 2012 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The annual list spotlights architectural, cultural and natural heritage sites at risk of destruction or irreparable damage and raises awareness about the threats.

The list has been so successful in boosting preservation efforts that only a handful of the 233 sites listed since 1988 have been lost, according to trust officials.

"Working closely with the U.S. Corps of Engineers, we believe a solution can be found that spares this one-of-a-kind village from catastrophic flooding or demolition," Stephanie Meeks, the national trust's president, said.

The village founded in 1817 by German religious dissenters seeking religious freedom has been protected by a 75-year-old levee from water that backs up behind the Tuscarawas River's Dover Dam. Flood waters over the years have led to water seepage under the earthen structure that stretches along the edges of Zoar and the levee is deteriorating.

The Corps of Engineers, which has classified the levee as in need of urgent repairs, has taken temporary protective measures and is working on a study to determine a permanent solution by 2015.

The corps says it's too soon to talk about options, but village residents say possible scenarios discussed include federal officials fixing the levee or buying the buildings to either move them to higher ground or to level them and remove the levee.

Zoar supporters want the levee repaired and say the new designation should provide more national support for saving the village.

"This listing confirms Zoar's historical significance nationally, not just locally," said Jon Elsasser, president of the Zoar Community Association and a member of the Ohio Historical Society's Board of Trustees. "This recognition is what we have been looking for."

Elsasser said the new listing doesn't assure Zoar's survival but "has a pretty good track record for helping preserve sites."

The endangered listing doesn't hinder the corps' efforts to find a permanent solution to the levee problem, said study manager Aaron Smith.

"We already knew the village's historical significance, and that definitely will be an evaluation factor," said Smith.

The village once provided communal housing for 500 Society of Separatists of Zoar members who pooled their resources earned through small industries, textile work, crafts and agriculture. The society disbanded in 1898, but the village survived and now has about 170 residents. It has retained many of its original structures, including about 50 brick, log and frame buildings, some of which have been restored and are open for tours.

Elsasser said he is confident that the endangered designation will prompt people around the country to contact the corps and other federal officials "to let them know just how important it is to save Zoar."