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Harmonie & New Harmony Indiana
Nature Bulletin No. 367-A   January 31, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

In Posey County, Indiana, on the Wabash River about 50 miles above its mouth, is the quiet little town of New Harmony. Its serenity and dignity are well-earned because New Harmony belongs to an aristocracy of villages that have made history. It was settle in 1815 by the Rappite colony led by the patriarchal George Rapp. With several hundred followers from Wurttemberg, Germany, he abandoned a previous experiment in western Pennsylvania, and purchased a tract of 40,000 acres along the Wabash. There they proceeded to form a community, named "Harmonie", based upon common ownership of property, constant toil, celibacy, and blind obedience to their spiritual leader, Rapp, after the manner of the primitive Christian church.

They erected massive buildings, including four community houses, a combination granary and fort (now a museum), and a church with columns of walnut, black cherry, and sassafras. They cleared forests, drained swamps, put fields in cultivation, planted orchards and vineyards, and pastured large herds and flocks. The river was dammed to furnish power for a gristmill and factories that produced foodstuffs, cloth, hats, boots, wagons, harness and whiskey for which they accepted only coin and notes of the Bank of the United States. They had branch stores at Vincennes, and at Shawneetown, Illinois. They prospered but a visitor wrote that during his entire stay he never saw one of them laugh. Finally, unrest among his flock, despised and opposed by their Hoosier neighbors, caused Rapp to sell out in 1825 and return the colony to Pennsylvania.

It was purchased by Robert Owen, a wealthy Scotch industrialist and social reformer who visioned a new moral order, based on common ownership of property, free from "the evils of exploitation, poverty and competition". Renamed New Harmony and sponsored by important easterners, the new community had a thousand recruits. In 1826, they were joined by a boatload of distinguished scientists and teachers from both Europe and America. Naturally, this Utopia also attracted many cranks and crackpots. There was too much talk and too little work; too much egotism, rivalry, greed, laziness, and quarreling. The Rappite factories, buildings and fences became dilapidated, the harvests meager, and one group after another became disgusted and pulled out. The one bright spot was the schools which were far in advance of their time. The experiment failed but some of the able scientists and teachers stayed on. Until the Civil War, New Harmony was one of the scientific and educational centers of America.

William Maclure, wealthy Scotch geologist and educator, had been president of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. He founded the U. S. Geological Survey, with headquarters at New Harmony for 17 years, and the Workingmen's Institute -- with its public libraries -- which he endowed. In addition to several able educators, there were Charles Le Sueur, French naturalist, painter and archeologist; Gerard Troost, Dutch geologist and chemist; Frances Wright, brilliant English writer, lecturer and reformer who founded the first women's literary club; and the American-born Thomas Say, often called "Father of American Zoology" because of his pioneer work on insects, fossils, shells and reptiles. Say was a member of many famous and scientific expeditions.

Four of Owen's sons were able prominent men who contributed much to the development of Indiana's schools and universities. Robert Dale Owen, as congressman, helped found the Smithsonian Institution and his flaming championship of emancipation influenced Abraham Lincoln's decision to free the slaves.

There's been more than moonlight on the banks of the Wabash.

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