Historical Markers
Harmony Society Cemetery Historical Marker
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Harmony Society Cemetery

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
Church Street, center of cemetery, Ambridge

Dedication Date:
December 2, 1963

Behind the Marker

This wall and a pivoting stone gate define the perimeter of the Harmonist Society's cemetery in Butler County.
This wall and a pivoting stone gate define the perimeter of the Harmonist Society's...
The Harmony Society, established by George Rapp and his followers, created a unique and prosperous religious utopian community in nineteenth-century Pennsylvania. The first Harmonists arrived in the state in 1803 and the following year built their first permanent settlement, Harmony, north of Pittsburgh. Believers devoted themselves to communal living, hard work, and prayer to prepare themselves for the Second Coming of Christ, which they expected to occur within their lifetime.

In existence for just over a century, the society was dissolved by its three remaining members in 1905. Two reasons explain its demise. First, in 1807 Rapp's followers adopted celibacy as one of the cornerstones of their faith. Although some members remained married, the Harmonists frowned upon marriage and considered sexual relationships a sign of spiritual weakness. So full commitment to the society required celibacy, thereby preventing the society from sustaining itself by natural increase. Secondly, unlike many Christian sects, the Harmonists did not actively seek out new members, nor did they attempt to convert others.

Harmonist Society's cemetery, Harmony, Pa
Harmonist Society's cemetery, Harmony, Pa.
Two Harmony Society cemeteries are located in Pennsylvania: one in the group's first settlement of Harmony, in Butler County north of Pittsburgh, where the Harmonists lived from 1803 to 1815; the second at markerEconomy, where they lived from 1824 to 1905.

The Harmonist cemetery in Harmony, Pennsylvania is circled by a stone wall and an arched entranceway with an unusual pivoting stone gate, constructed by Mennonite craftsmen hired by the Society. One hundred Harmonists are buried here, including Johannes Rapp, the son of founder George Rapp. In accordance with Rapp's teachings, the graves are unmarked. No written account records the Harmonists' reasons for not marking the graves of deceased members, but according to Daniel Reibel, a former curator of Old Economy, "it probably had something to do with their belief in" the Second Coming. After all, he reasons, "the grave was meant to be a temporary home-so why mark it?"

Five hundred and ninety-four people are interred in the Economy cemetery, including both society members and men and women who worked for the society. In this cemetery headstones do stand above the gravesites of some of the non-members.

In keeping with their beliefs, Harmonists' funeral services were brief and simple. The body of the deceased was prayed over, sprinkled with flower petals to symbolize eternal life, and then quietly buried. Founder George Rapp joined the dead before him with the same lack of pomp or permanent memorial.
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