New Harmony – Utopian and Beyond

2021, Indiana, Road Trip, States

Before we booked a site at Harmonie State Park we had not heard of the nearby community of New Harmony, Indiana but today we immersed ourselves in the history of this fascinating community. We had a bit of a head start after a delightful conversation last evening with a local resident and proponent of the town. We knew to head to Sara’s for a quiche and coffee before moving on to The Atheneum to kick off our experience. There we chatted with Heidi, purchased our tickets, and briefly browsed the gift shop before walking out on our own to get a feel for the place, visit the Roofless Church, and get some refreshment at the Yellow Tavern founded 1815. We were back at the Atheneum at 1 PM for the tour of the town. After an orientation film and a visit to some of the exhibits in this amazing edifice designed by Richard Meier and built in the late 1970’s we headed off on a tram to learn about the history of New Harmony. Founded in 1814 by the Harmonists, a German religious group of about eight hundred people under the leadership of George Rapp, that moved as a group from Harmony, Pennsylvania to establish a religious Utopian society here in Indiana on the banks of the Wabash River. Over the next ten years they built an impressive town then decided to move as a group back to Pennsylvania to found a new town, Economy. At that point George Rapp sold the complete town to Robert Owen, a Scottish industrialist and social reformer who was attracted to the existing textile mills and who wanted to establish a secular Utopian society here. In the process he created a haven for scientists and scholars although the utopian society lasted only two years. Today it is a vibrant community that remembers and respects it’s history but isn’t trapped by it. One local describes it as a “vortex of creativity”. We totally enjoyed the tour of the historic buildings and narration by Heidi who seems to truly enjoy talking about all aspects of New Harmony and we look forward to more adventures here. Of note, we’d previously heard of Robert Owen, he’d been influential in the industrial and social design of Lowell Mills. And we cannot help but wonder if we have a distant family connection to the first inhabitants of the Harmonist house we toured.

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