Historical Markers
Harmony Historical Marker
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Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
PA 68 in Harmony

Dedication Date:
October 3, 1947

Behind the Marker

"I am a prophet and I am called to be one."

Johann George Rapp, Wurttemberg, June 1781.

A portrait of George Rapp, founder of the Harmony Society.
George Rapp, founder of the Harmony Society.
A burst of religious enthusiasm spread through the new American nation in the early nineteenth century. Religious revivals proliferated and new religious communities were established from New Jersey to Louisiana. One of the longest lived, most prosperous, and famous of these communities was the Harmony Society led by George Rapp (1757-1847), a lay preacher from Wurttemberg in South Germany, who drew some 750 followers from his homeland to the United States in the early decades of the nineteenth century.

The son of a small farmer and vinedresser, Rapp received a modest education and became a devout student of the Bible. Struck in his youth by the contrast between the lives of his neighbors and the social order described in the New Testament, Rapp, claiming to be divinely inspired, in 1787 began to preach to a small group of friends who assembled at his house on Sundays. This drew the attention of the established Lutheran Church, which denounced Rapp for his heresies - including an embrace of pacifism - and attempted to suppress this new separatist group by fines, imprisonment, and other punishments. After years of harassment Rapp and a following that now included more than three hundred families decided to emigrate to Pennsylvania where they could worship God as they wished.

The communal Harmony Society was successful in many industrial ventures, but the foundation of its economy was agriculture. This late 19th century photograph shows Harmonist at work in the fields of their community of Economy
Hired field workers cutting hay, Economy, PA, circa 1880.
With savings from his farm work, Rapp sailed to Baltimore in 1803 and after scouting out a series of locations, marker purchased five thousand acres of uncleared land near the Connoquenessing River north of Pittsburgh. In 1804, some six hundred followers arrived from Europe in two ships, and after wintering in temporary quarters they made their way to their new home in western Pennsylvania. In February 1805 they formally marker organized themselves into the Harmony Society and agreed to pool all of their possessions in a common fund, to dress in a plain and simple manner, and to labor for the common good of the community.

By the following spring almost 750 German men, women, and children were busily engaged in the work of clearing the land, planting orchards and fields, building log houses, a communal barn, gristmill, and a school. Methodically and with extraordinary industriousness, the Rappites, as they were often called, quickly created a series of prosperous economic enterprises.

In 1807 a wave of religious fervor swept through the settlement, and the Society's members decided to embrace celibacy so as to withdraw their love entirely from "the lusts of the flesh," to give up the use of tobacco, and in other ways to conform themselves more closely to the spirit and commands of Jesus. As spiritual leader of the community, "Father" Rapp taught them to live life in accordance with the New Testament, to labor for the grace of God rather than wealth, and to prepare for the coming of the Lord, which he assured them would take place in 1829.

Up by 5 a.m. and in bed by 9 p.m., the residents of Harmony prayed, worked, and ate together. Within four short years, they had cleared an additional 250 acres of ground on which they grew flax, grapes, hemp, wheat, and poppies. They built a sawmill, tannery, winery, whiskey distillery, and woolen mill, in which they processed wool from their own, imported merino sheep. Harmony became a thriving commercial enterprise, producing flour, linen, leather, lumber, wine, whiskey, and woolen cloth that they sold to their neighbors and shipped to Pittsburgh.
Landscape watercolor on paper
Swiss View of New Harmony, Indiana, by Johann karl Bodmer, 1832.

Harmony, however, had two defects that were to marker end its existence only a decade after its settlement: it was located twelve miles from navigable waters and the climate and soil were unsuitable for vine-growing. So in 1814, Rapp purchased thirty thousand acres along the Wabash River in the Indiana Territory. After an advance team cleared land and built homes, the entire community moved to its new town, also named Harmony. Here, too, the Harmonists prospered, but the swampy lowlands along the river bank made their new settlement an unhealthy place to live.

Assailed by fevers and malaria, the Harmonists in 1824 sold the property to British industrialist Robert Owen, who planned to make "New Harmony" a model "Community of Equality" based upon secular scientific principles of human organization rather than religious faith or doctrine. Owen's "new empire of peace and good will" quickly collapsed into angry factions, but New Harmony remained an educational and cultural center until the Civil War. Rapp and his followers, meanwhile, returned to Pennsylvania where they resettled along the banks of the Ohio River, less than fifteen miles from their original settlement, in a new community they named marker"Economy."
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