Old Economy Village
The USA has long been a haven for religious groups escaping from persecution in their home countries. Some of those religious groups such as the Amish, Mormons and Shakers are covered elsewhere in 50 plus DC. Here, about 29 kilometres (18 miles) north west of Pittsburgh, we find another group, the Harmony Society. In 1804 George Rapp and nearly 800 followers emigrated from Iptingen in south west Germany in search of religious and economic freedom. They settled for 10 years at a Pennsylvania town that they named Harmony, before moving to Indiana. In 1824 the Harmonists returned to Pennsylvania and founded the town of Oekonomie close to the Ohio River, which in time became known as Economy Township. The centre of this town has been preserved and is now known as Old Economy Village.
George Rapp's House
The leader of the Harmonists was George Rapp (1757 - 1847). At Economy Township he lived with his wife, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter in a house in modern day Church Street which was described in 1826 as "the principal building (probably meaning domestic building) standing two stories high, with two lower wings standing in the same line". At the time the house was furnished with objects made at Economy. Many of the family's belongings have survived and are exhibited in the house. Click Tab 2 to see George Rapp’s garden.
In common with many other religious groups, the Harmonists strove for self sufficiency. The Mechanics Building contained a Tailor Shop, Shoe Shop, and a Print Shop as well as a wine cellar in the basement that once housed the Society’s fine wines. On show in the print shop is the original printing press which was last used by the Harmonists in 1832. The Harmonists were were quick to develop and adopt new technologies and they used new technologies to become very strong in the manufacture of textiles.
Museum & Feast Hall
Seventeen of the buildings of Oekonomie have been preserved at Old Economy Village and a guide in period dress will show you round the site. Their way of life was not just about religion, Harmonists were keen on education and they were good businessmen. The Museum Building and Feast Hall, constructed between 1825 and 1826, is an example of their commitment to education. It contains a Natural History and Fine Arts Museum, the Society's library and adult education classrooms. The Feast Hall on the 2nd floor was used for 6 annual feasts such as the anniversary of the founding of the Society. Concerts by the Society's band and orchestra were also held in the hall. Click Tab 2 to see an interior view of the Museum.
Harmony Society Church
The church that formed the centrepiece of Oekonomie is not part of Old Economy Village as it remains in active use as a church. In 1832 about a third of the members left the society under the leadership of Count de Leon. After George Rapp died in 1847, the society entered a phase of slow economic decline and by the turn of the century few Harmonists were left. In 1903 the remaining Harmonists sold 1000 hectares (2500 acres) of their land to the American Bridge Company and soon over 4000 workers were employed on the fabrication of steelwork for bridges and skyscrapers. The Harmony Society was dissolved in 1905 and the town was later renamed Ambridge in honour of its largest employer. The heart of the Harmonist town, complete with 17 of their original buildings, survived the rapid growth of Ambridge and in 1916 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania purchased it and preserved it as Old Economy Village.
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