Gnadenhutten Museum and Historical Park looks to the future

Gnadenhutten Museum and Historical Park looks to the future
Teri Stein

The museum at the Gnadenhutten Historical Park features many displays and artifacts on the history of the village.


Despite its tragic past, the Gnadenhutten Historical Park site is a tranquil place today and one that honors and remembers the victims of the massacre. The site received many visitors each year until the pandemic hit.

“Right now we are probably down 50% from what we had last year. We are still getting people coming through, but it's just not the same,” said John Heil, curator of the museum. “Some days we don't see anybody; last year we always had people coming through.”

The site is located at 352 S. Cherry St. and operated by the Gnadenhutten Historical Society.

Gnadenhutten was founded by German Americans and Lenape (Delaware) Native Americans in 1772 and today is home to nearly 1,300 people. The historical site is the final resting place of those killed in the Gnadenhutten Massacre on March 8, 1782. Members of the Pennsylvania Militia, out for revenge after attacks in Pennsylvania, mistakenly believed the Lenape at Gnadenhutten were responsible and brutally murdered them.

The summer hours for the museum are Tuesday through Friday from 1-5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. The museum is closed on Monday. After Labor Day the museum will be open only on weekends.

“We are always available for appointments if somebody would want to come in. They can just call my number, and we will get somebody to open up for them,” Heil said.

There is no paid staff at the museum; it is operated by volunteers.

The museum lost all their weekend hours in May when they were unable to open until June.

One popular festival, Pioneer Days, was canceled this year due to COVID-19, leaving the Gnadenhutten Historical Society without its biggest fundraiser — a crock auction.

“The crock auction usually raises around $1,500-$2,000 and sometimes even more depending on who gets there,” Heil said. “We use that money to maintain the museum, for the upkeep of the cabins and things in the museum like the new video we just did. We also put in new lights.”

The cancellation of the fundraiser was a blow. “Without that we’re going to struggle, but like everyone else, we’ll get through,” Heil said.

The design for the crock this year is the Gnadenhutten John Heckewelder Moravian Church. The 10 crocks were crafted by local artisan Bill Shyrock.

“They turned out really nice,” Heil said of the design, which features a street view of the church. Heil has tentatively rescheduled the crock auction for Apple Butter Days.

Pioneer Days has always attracted a crowd with its lineup of Native American speakers, bean soup cooked over an open fire, corn bread served on Saturday of the event and 25-30 camps of re-enactors demonstrating life in the 1770s.

Proceeds from the festival helped provide a new video for the museum that was narrated by the pastor of the Gnadenhutten John Heckewelder Moravian Church, Darrell Johnson. The video followed the script of one produced in the 1970s but was updated with recent photos and video.

“The old video showed a 1960s car coming into town, driving down the road. I didn’t think that was the best way to start a historical video,” Heil said.

Copies of the video will be available for sale sometime before the end of the season. The video was produced by Richie Johns Productions. Sponsors included Progressive Foam, Tusco Display, Community Savings Bank and Plymouth Foam. The Tuscarawas County Convention and Visitors Bureau also contributed to the project.

Other area businesses are listed at the end of the video for their support including Tents of Grace Café, Village Hardware, Brown’s Service Station, Top Notch Auto, Gnadenhutten Family Store and Mailers Choice. The Gnadenhutten Moravian Church, the Gnadenhutten United Methodist Church and Indian Valley High School also were credited.

“Some of the Indian Valley students volunteer in the museum, and they always come over for the March 8 commemoration,” Heil said.

The Gnadenhutten Memorial Park and Museum sponsors several activities throughout the year in addition to Pioneer Days, which is always the first weekend in August. They will have Apple Butter Days the second weekend in October and the Christian Indian Christmas Drive-thru display from Thanksgiving through Jan. 1.

March 8 each year is the Day of Remembrance ceremony for the victims of the Gnadenhutten Massacre. “We are hoping (the virus) is going to be cleared out, and we'll be able to have people come back from Canada again,” Heil said, referring to those from the Delaware Nation who attend the remembrance each year.

Currently, the Canadian government would allow travel to the U.S., but a quarantine is required upon their return, complicating travel.

As of now a scaled-down version of Apple Butter Days is planned for the second weekend of October. “We will have a drive-thru breakfast on Saturday and make apple butter. The apple butter will then be for sale on Sunday, and we’ll have the crock auction,” Heil said, adding the crock auction will be socially distanced.

The Gnadenhutten Historical Society always welcomes new volunteers. For more information call Heil at 330-691-1474 or 330-691-1455.

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