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Harmony

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George Rapp, the charismatic leader of the Harmonists, purchased four thousand acres along Connoquenessing Creek from Dettmar Basse in 1804. Over the course of the next few years, the village grew to about 850 people from Württemberg, who built log and brick houses accommodating forty-six families on lands they called Eidenan, or “Beautiful Meadows.” Harmony is laid out around a small oval central square lined with the important buildings, including the store, church, and George Rapp's house. Though the Harmonists believed that the Second Coming was imminent, they built more than 130 buildings, and, by 1814, had evolved from subsistence farmers into exporters of woolens. The Christian and Elizabeth Waldmann log house (1804; 516 Main Street) represents the earliest and least expensive building technique employed by the Harmonists. The house began with a two-story log structure, then had a one-story brick in-filled, half-timbered dining and congregation room added to the north elevation c. 1807, the year a brick yard was established in the village. The Harmonist architecture changed over time as the group continued to absorb the culture around them. While their early log and brick houses and barns reflect their German heritage, the materials available at the time, and the rural buildings of their native Swabia, their later houses show a Georgian influence, evidenced by the Flemish bond brickwork and fanlight on Rapp's house.

One of the first Harmonist buildings is a sheep barn at 303 Mercer Road, built in 1805 just north of Connoquenessing Creek and away from the residential center. The barn's stone foundation and lower level insulation of Dutch biscuits, sometimes called paling, which is clay and straw encased in boards and slid in between floor joist grooves as insulation, show Harmonist workmanship, and the upper level employs their framing techniques. In the 1850s, probably due to tornado damage, the roof was replaced by the Mennonites. The silo was constructed c. 1950.

The Harmonist cemetery, on a rise at the southeast edge of town, holds only unmarked graves, reflecting their belief that all are equal in death. The surrounding stone wall and a finely carved stone gate that revolves on a metal pin were built in 1869 by contractors to Harmonist specifications. Ironically, the cemetery gate has become a symbol of the town of Harmony, even though it was not actually built by the Harmonists, but for them.

By 1815, the community had left Harmony and built the town of New Harmony on the Wabash River in Indiana. They sold their Butler County land and buildings to Mennonite Abraham Ziegler, who in turn sold farms and lots to others, thus changing the religious and architectural traditions of the area. The Mennonites built in their own symmetrical and slightly more decorative style, often adding on to Harmonist buildings and changing their character. The Langenbacher-Ziegler House of c. 1810 (539 Main Street) was altered by Abraham Ziegler after he purchased it in 1815. He added two windows beyond the door and a double porch. Prominently sited, this house shows the transition from the Harmonist to the Mennonite building style.

Harmony's Mennonite period ended early in the twentieth century, and other than losses to fire in the 1850s, little changed in the town until the 1960s, when the zeal for modernization demolished or completely altered over fifty Harmonist buildings. To reverse this, local historic district guidelines were added to the zoning code, creating a Historic Architectural Review Board that oversees the preservation and restoration of Harmony's buildings. A group of log houses dotted throughout the village reflects the earliest heritage (546 Main and 245 and 248 ½ Mercer streets), while the rural beginnings are reflected in the Knauf's Feed Mill (formerly the Harmony Cereal Mill) of c. 1900 at 326 German Street. A modern housing development, Jackson Manor, at Mercer and Aise roads shows dramatically the area's change from rural to suburban.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.

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