Harmonists Farmed Site
Of Indian Village for Much of a Century
Historical Trajectory Followed to an End
We’ve seen how Logstown, the Indian village site near Pittsburgh, was visited by the likes of George Washington, Meriwether Lewis, Charles
Dickens, Chief Guyasuta and even batman’s namesake.
In this final post on Logstown, we’ll see how its most anticipated visitor never arrived — at least not yet.
We’re talking about Jesus. The one from Nazareth.
The Harmonist Society established a happy and phenomenally successful commune on 3,000 acres around the abandoned Indian town, all in anticipation that Christ would arrive on Sept. 15, 1829.
They expected to go with him to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem, and walk with him for 1,000 years before the Final Judgment.
Imagine how tidy and productive your home or community would become, if you knew such a judgmental visitor was coming? That’s what happened at the place we now call Old Economy Village.
The Harmonists were pious Germans. They called their commune Oekonomie, understood to mean a divinely inspired economy.
That inspiration took them far beyond what you might normally expect of a commune. The hippie communes of the 1970s made candles. These people made much of what was being made in the U.S., and a great deal of wealth — more wealth than the U.S. Treasury.
Well. . ., that comparison to the Treasury has a caveat. It refers to the Panic of 1837, which eventually drained the coffers of many governments and banks. So, during that period, it happened that the Harmonists were sitting atop more silver and gold than most anyone else.
They didn’t start out rich, though. Capitalists and economic thinkers from throughout the world came to see how they did it.
The Harmonists got wealthy by a devotion to work, investment rather than spending, and the wisdom and good luck to be where a startup called the United States was booming to life.
Married Farm and Factory
Under the direction of a bigger-than-life leader, George Rapp, and his adopted entrepreneurial son, Frederick, they efficiently merged agriculture and manufacturing. Few, if any, had placed factories next to farms before.
They raised sheep for wool, used new-fangled steam-powered machines to spin and weave it, created products, and then they distributed and retailed them. The market was favorable. Continued difficulties with Great Britain made woolen goods expensive and highly profitable in the growing United States.
They took those profits and built enterprises that included: cotton, silk, wine, coal, oil, railroads, banks, and real estate ventures.
Well-healed Europeans traveling around North America had to go to Niagara Falls, of course, but they also went to Oekonomie.
In 1826, only two years after the Harmonists built the town from nothing, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar wrote:
“Mr. Rapp conducted us into the factory again, and said that the girls had especially requested that visit that I might hear them sing . . . The girls sang four pieces, at first sacred, but afterward, by Mr. Rapp’s desire, of a gay character. All the workmen, and especially the females, have very healthy complexions and moved me deeply by the warm-hearted friendliness with which they saluted the elder Rapp. I was also much gratified to see vessels containing fresh sweet-scented flowers standing on all the machines. The neatness which universally reigns here is in every respect worthy of praise.”
Didn’t Marry Men and Women
Only 600 people lived at the commune, and they were supposed to avoid baby-making intimacies. Jesus was coming, you know.
Further, Rapp didn’t seek out new followers. That meant outsiders had to be hired as business boomed, and as the commune members aged and died.
So, what happened when Jesus didn’t show up on Sept. 15, 1829? Not much.
The date obviously was wrong, but Harmonists couldn’t have felt too disillusioned. Surely, Jesus would be coming in their lifetimes. Even better, he’d come in Father Rapp’s lifetime, and he was getting really old.
Besides, all they had to do was look around to see that their devotion had not been wasted
True, they were denied sex and intimacy. But, they were living amid flower gardens in neatly arranged two-story frame and brick houses. Most people in Pittsburgh were living in one-room log cabins.
Harmonists got food, clothing, shelter and camaraderie at no charge. They would be cared for in sickness and old age, and, if they decided to leave, they knew they could get a sizeable piece of change — their vested interest in the Harmonist enterprises.
Not Married to Sites
George Rapp first brought his followers from Germany (the Lutheran state there didn’t like them much) to Butler County in 1804. He established Harmony, his first commune. It did very well, but George and Frederick had bigger ideas.
They moved the Harmonists to 30,000 acres along the Ohio River in Indiana, calling it New Harmony.
It also did very well, but it was more acreage than they needed, it wasn’t close enough to markets, and it was flat and damp and very unlike their native Germany.
So, while in Pittsburgh on business, Frederick heard that 2,400 acres was for sale around Logstown.
The Rapps never had trouble finding buyers for their profitable communal villages, and they promptly unloaded New Harmony on one of the many rich men of the time interested in social reform through utopian living.
Harmonist attorneys — they never did anything without them — may have been the ones who dug up old plans by someone to build a new town over the Indian village.
Those plans are on display at Old Economy Village, which has been a state-operated historic park since 1919.