Photo by Beth Miller
Explore Berlin, Ohio
The oldest existing village in Holmes County, Berlin once competed with Millersburg to be the the county seat. Now a bustling town lined with furniture stores, gift shops and antiques, Berlin could now be termed the unofficial capital of Ohio's Amish country.
Photo by Doyle Yoder
Known as the Heart of Amish Country, The village of Berlin is the oldest existing village in Holmes County. On July 2, 1816, a native from Berlin, Germany, John Swigert, arranged for 108 lots to be laid out along an east and west street and a north and south street. Swigert and another early settler, Joseph Troyer from Berlin, Pennsylvania, named the village after their respective home towns. Folklore suggests that Swigert chose the site of Berlin because its elevation, the highest in Holmes, County, made its defense more feasible in case of attack by Indians.
A Center of Commerce
In the 1800's, Berlin was busy town, full of industries such as machine shops, a foundry, dry goods stores, hotels, tailor shops, hat factories, blacksmith shops, a tannery, distillery and a grist mill. A successful Berlin auction was popular in the early to mid 1900's. Many of those old buildings are still standing today, housing a few of the village's many gift shops.
When the National Road was completed and Zane's Trace was improved to permit wagon traffic southward to Zanesville, storekeepers could more easily send wagons to obtain needed supplies. It was at this time that Berlin grew rapidly and out-distanced nearby Benton as an outstanding business center. In fact, the first real factory in the county was built in Berlin in 1847. This company made the first grain threshers to be manufactured in Ohio.
Most of the early settlers of the Berlin area originated from Germany and Switzerland, first settling in Pennsylvania, then migrating to Ohio. However, Berlin was not originally an Amish village. A number of churches were a part of early Berlin history including Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Mennonite. Not until nearly 1820 did Amish settlers come into Berlin Township in larger numbers.
Tom Lion, an Indian chief, has been a part of Berlin historical lore from the first days white settlers arrived here. A native of Pennsylvania, he is said to have taken part in many massacres of settlers along the frontier. In 1816, when Berlin was laid out, Tom Lion was 77 years old. He lived alone in a small ravine just north of Berlin along a creek that is named after him, Lions Creek, between Berlin and Bunker Hill.
On Main Street (State Route 39) on the eastern end of town is a well-preserved 1800's style building. It is known as Pomerene House, after the prominent Pomerene family who made their home in Berlin. Among them were doctors and a U.S. Senator, Atlee Pomerene. Pomerene Hospital in Millersburg is so named because of money donated by the family to start the hospital.
During World War I, anti-German sentiment was running high in all areas of the United States, and Holmes County was no exception. As a way to separate themselves from suspicion and prejudice, it was decided to reinvent the pronounciation of the town. Instead of saying Ber-LIN, as it is pronounced in Germany, the town became known as BER-lin.
Heart of Amish Country
True to its history, Berlin today is a hub of shopping and industry. Since it is at the intersection of State Routes 39 and 62, there are several ways to enter town. As you explore the many shops of downtown Berlin, you'll find wares of all types, including hardwood Amish furniture, baskets, garden items, purses, jewelry, clothing, handmade crafts, home decor, fabrics, quilts and variety stores.
--paraphrased from an essay by Mary Sundheimer
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