Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

January 29, 2014

ANDREA NEAL: Harmonists sought to build utopia along Wabash River

Historian: Economy was balanced, profitable

(Continued)

Rapp and his followers immigrated to the United States in 1803 after being persecuted in Germany for their pietist and pacifist views. The group initially settled in Pennsylvania, but they outgrew that property and wanted better shipping access, so they moved west and acquired 20,000 acres on the Wabash River in what was still the Indiana Territory.

Citing scriptural reasons, Rapp decided to move the community back east to the Pittsburgh area in 1824. He sold the town for $135,000 to Robert Owen, a wealthy industrialist of Welsh descent, and William Maclure, a Scottish philanthropist.

The two were seeking a ready-made location to launch their own utopian experiment — this one secular and socialist. It lasted only two years, likely because there was little incentive for people to work and no religious commitment to bind them together.

Owen’s children remained in Indiana and helped create a culturally and scientifically vibrant community that thrived until the 1850s. Many years later the wife of Owen descendant Kenneth Dale Owen was influential in restoring landmarks from both utopian experiments.

Today New Harmony is a living museum town featuring more than a dozen historic sites and a modern visitors center designed by internationally acclaimed architect Richard Meier.

Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s Episcopal School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at aneal@inpolicy.org.

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