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
HARMONIE& NEW HARMONY INDIANA.
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
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
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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Update: June 2012