For 300 Lutheran-separatist families in Wurttemberg,
Germany, selling all they owned and sailing to a strange new
world was a small price to pay for religious freedom.
In 1803 the German government refused to allow the newly formed Harmonist Society, once followers of traditional Lutheran faith, to form its own church. The group was lead by George Rapp, a young weaver who fervently believed and taught his followers that the Lutheran Church had not prepared its congregation for the anticipated Second Coming of Christ.
Leaving his son Frederick in Germany to plan and organize the journey to religious freedom, Rapp sailed to Pennsylvania in search of land. His first purchase was rich, fertile acreage in western Pennsylvania's Butler County. But the Harmonists, also known as Rappists, decided to relocate to Ambridge, Pennsylvania in 1824. The peace-loving community erected Old Economy Village on their 3,000 acres in Ambridge that include shops, homes, a house of worship and well-planned herb, vegetable and flower gardens.
The Harmonists lead somewhat puritanical lives to be pure in body and spirit when Christ returned. They were so convinced that the Second Coming was imminent, single members of the Society were not allowed to marry and every member of the village, including married couples, vowed celibacy.
The Community worked and resided as a unit, pooling their talents and their income. Up to eight men and women were assigned to each house where one woman was designated housekeeper. The women worked eight hours a day, while the men worked 10 hours.
Wool-producing Saxon and Merino sheep were raised along with silk worms. Grapevines were trained to hug the warm brick walls of the Community's buildings which resulted in a sweet wine comparable to the finest European vintages. In their prime, the Society built, owned and operated nine factories, producing and selling a wide variety of goods.
The highly religious Harmonists were surprisingly great lovers of both theological and secular art and music. Their art collection included great works by European masters.
In 1826, the Community established a Natural History and Fine Arts Museum in their central meeting building, Feast Hall. According to Pennsylvania lore, the museum housed William Penn's treaty with the Delaware Indians, safely tucked away in an antique chest.
The 600-member group also owned an Albrecht piano along with stringed and brass instruments. When commemorating the Lord's Supper, they gathered in Feast Hall to raise their voices in song accompanied by their own musicians.
Education was a priority to the Harmonists who schooled their members along with a few adopted orphans from outside communities. Everyone in the village could read and write, skills that were sometimes lacking in colonial America.
Frederick Rapp died in 1834 followed by his father, George, in 1847. Because the remaining aged members were unable to properly handle Economy's businesses and extensive investments, the Society was dissolved in 1905.
Visitors are invited to tour Old Economy Village which features 17 historic buildings and over 16,000 items used daily by the Harmonists. The Community, fully restored to its original glory, is designed in the style of a German village displaying pristine gardens, shops and homes.
To visit Old Economy Village, motorists should exit the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Cranberry Interchange (Exit #3), following I-79 south to exit 19.