Economy, PA

In 1703, George Rapp, persecuted because of his split with the Lutheran Church, purchased 3,000 acres of land in what is now Pennsylvania, and left Germany forever with 400 of his followers to found a town with hopes of economic and religious freedom. They would go on to build a society that, at one point, Thomas Jefferson hoped would be a model for new United States of America. The Harmonites, as they called themselves, were together for almost 100 years, but then they went the way of the rest of the new American Utopias.

The Harmonites called their first town Harmony, go figure. They pooled all of their goods, and called themselves a commonwealth, working for the common good of their religious  and economic ideals. They believed that in their lifetimes they would see the second coming of Christ, and for that reason they lived their life purely. This meant that they remained celibate, saved lots of money, and strived to maintain a high quality of life. The town of Harmony exploded, and by 1814, their numbers were at 800, there were 140 buildings in their town, and had all the modern trappings of a well to do town, without sacrificing the religious ideals that they held so dear. That year, they sold the land for 10x its original price, and moved to Indiana, where they purchased a 25,000 acre plot of land, and did the same thing all over again. Then, for the last time, in 1824, they picked up, and moved back to Pennsylvania, where they founded the town of Economy.

This is George Rapps house, very elegant.

This is George Rapp's house in Economy, very elegant.

It was here, that, by 1830, it is considered that they built the most economically successful independant society in colonial America. It had stone paved roads with drainage. Several buildings were heated with steam. Behind the great hall was a sizeable greenhouse that was put on tracks, so that it could be removed during the spring and summer. Many outside of the commune called for its dissolution by the state of Pennsylvania because their textile manufacturing was considered to be a monopoly. In addition to this they had bountiful farmlands. It was because of this success of the “manufacturer next to agriculture” that T.J. took a keen interest in the society.

They kept all of their wealth for the good of their church. It is estimated, that at its height in 1868, their great hall heald over half a million dollars in gold. They also kept an extremely high standard of living. Their city was spotted with well maintained parks, one of which had a labyrinth. At one point they had a decent orchestra. Many of their constituents

A garden in Economy

A garden in Economy

collected art. They were always on top of the latest technology, and were considered instrumental in the development of the railroad in Pennsylvania. They even donated land that would eventually become Geneva College.

Despite their wealth, there were serious problems afoot, rooted in their religious convictions. The no procreating rule really was a problem. Not only for the fact that no children were around, but because no one wanted to join their world. It so happened that in 1832 almost a third of their membership left with a man who proclaimed himself to be a prophet. Also, he would let them finally bang each other. Then George Rapp’s brother, who was considered the mastermind behind the economic efficiency of the commune, Frederick, died in 1847. As the population grew older, they hired out more and more of their work, and eventually were deep in dept. In 1906 they sold all but 6 acres to the American Bridge Company, who renamed the town Ambridge. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania bought up the final 6 acres in 1916, containing the better part of the original buildings, and the entire town is maintained in very good condition. You can still go see it today, and it is on the National Historic Register.

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Published in: on July 16, 2009 at 6:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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