This building held several Harmonist shops: Tailor shop, Hat shop, Shoemaker Shop and Print Shop. Through the side door, a wide stairway led below to a huge wine cellar - over 20 feet high in the center - which contained huge barrels within which fermented the commune’s wine stores. Wine was an important factor in the Society - George Rapp had himself worked in the vineyards of Germany before coming to America.
The Visitor's Center is where you purchase your ticket to enter Old Economy's museum and grounds. It's located on 16th street, a few blocks down from the entrance to the historic site.
You'll find a museum detailing the history of the Harmonists, introducing visitors to their religious and communal lifestyle. It contains samples of their woven goods, silk cloth, farm implements, vintage photos, paintings, clothing and other artifacts from Old Economy village (pic #2).
A 20 minute film provides visitors with pertinent information on this communal society which is helpful whether you appear for a guided tour or are just wandering through the site on your own.
A lovely gift shop carrying books on Old Economy and Pennsylvania, handmade candles and other country crafts and gifts is located here, as well (pic #3).
Hours are Tues.-Sat. 9am-5pm; Sun. Noon-5pm. Closed on Mondays and holidays (except Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day). Allow 1 1/2 hours for your visit.
Admission is $7.00 for adults age 18 and up; $5.00 for Youth age 6 years to 17 years; $6.00 for senior citizens age 60 plus and admission is free for under age six.
Feasts signaling religious holidays were held in this hall several times a year. Events known as love feasts were also held after members confessed their differences in front of Father Rapp. If they followed the same practice as other 'pietistic groups' of the day the individuals would kiss each other on the cheek afterwards.
A gathering in honor of Christ's Last Supper would be held in this building annually shortly before Easter. A year after Father Rapp's death, a feast was held in recognition of his faithful leadership.
The hall was constructed in 1826, but was not large enough to hold all of its members. After a split occurred in the society, it was sufficient to do so. In its 175 year history, the Feast Hall has only been painted twice. The blue ceiling is original to the building.
There are two separate staircases to the hall, one was used by the men and the other by the women. A Natural History Museum is located on the ground floor beneath the Feast Hall.
Father Rapp's ornamental gardens were designed to resemble those of Wurttemberg's nobility. Meandering paths, a raised area for grapevines, a stone grotto for meditation and a large pavilion with a statue of Harmony* in the center, topped by a copper dome helped to create a lovely place for a walk about.
According to a booklet I purchased from the gift shop titled, Old Economy Village--Pennsylvania Trail of History Guide, this garden at one time 'extended west about 60 feet, where Ohio River Boulevard is today'.
A sturdy stone wall surrounds this serene plot, helping 'to bring warmth to the plants in the winter sun on the south side and shelter them from the north winds whipping through the area'.
Plantings such as fruit trees, tulips, dahlias and other flowers then later orange and lemon trees filled this green space. It was a place of serene beauty!
*The present statue of Harmony replaced a wood carved statue that deteriorated over the years.
This is the home of R.L. Baker, a storekeeper from the Society who eventually became trustee for the group once Father Rapp died.
It's a good example of a typical German style home which features a central chimney. In Economy, there would have been five people sharing a home. If the number fell below three, households were combined. The women slept separately from the men. Although members decided to become celibate, not everyone prescribed to this idea.
One of the women would be the housekeeper and the other women would have jobs outside the home in the community, such as the textile mill. Men were farmers, worked in the mills or were crafts/tradesmen.
We entered to a small room where a door in the floor led to the root cellar. Moving on, we saw the kitchen with ten-plate stove and preparation area (pic #2) and a somewhat sparse living/dining room.
This old log house stands on a side street near the village and reflects the early building style of the community. Most of Pittsburgh's residents lived in log homes at this time.
Note the irregular planking with chinking* between each one. As the village of Economy grew, more and more brick homes appeared, affording members a luxury that most couldn't enjoy.
*chinking is the gritty, mortar-like material between each plank
Beneath the Feast Hall on the ground floor was the Natural History Museum. It contained preserved native specimens like a huge elk and hulking black bear, as well as, several local bird species. The public was welcomed to the museum in 1827.
The society's first doctor, Johannes Christoph Mueller, compiled the museum. He was a real Renaissance man, for he also conducted the orchestra, created a herbarium, gathered the specimens for the museum and taught school.
When 'the schism' came about, he departed in 1832 with about 170 other members who followed a self-pronounced Messiah. Mueller's former position was then taken by Dr. Conrad Feucht. After Frederick Rapp's death in 1834, Father Rapp hoped to sell the entire contents of the museum, but there were no takers. The University of Pittsburgh purchased the mineral collection in 1852.
Each Harmonist settlement had a wine cellar, Old Economy had the largest of these. George Rapp had been schooled as a vintner, so this knowledge benefitted the Society.
The person designated as the housekeeper could come to the wine cellar to receive enough wine for the family. The group sold their wine, beer, hard cider and whiskey retail. The members consumed all but the hard liquor.
This wine cellar is approximately 20 feet deep and contained casks capable of holding 1200 gallons of wine. A cooper on the premises made them. The wine cellar is beneath the Mechanics building, which was used as a shoe shop, tailor shop, print shop and finishing spot for the hatters.
The largest home in Economy was that of George Rapp, constructed in 1826. It was a two story home with wings on either side and a hipped roof, similar to those found in his hometown of Wurttemberg.
Another home erected for Frederick Rapp, adopted son of George R, sat next door and was connected to Father Rapp's home by a common porch. In time, the two homes were joined by creating a doorway between the thick walls, allowing for those servicing the premises to move smoothly between them without going outside.
We began our tour in Frederick Rapp's side of the home, passing through his simple living and bedroom quarters to Father Rapp's home on the opposite end of the large residence. Pictured is George Rapp's bedroom from which he bade his followers goodbye on his last day of life (pic #2) and his comfortable dining room with checked oil cloth rug (pic #3).
I thought the kitchen was particularly interesting since we caught a glimpse of what their common ovens were capable of--delicious breads of all types!
When we visited, the historic buildings were being adorned for the Christmas holiday, welcoming visitors to a different age and time.
The Harmonist Church was erected in 1832. Churches of this period were usually positioned with the exterior facing east. Unusual for the time, their services were conducted at the south end of the building.
Father Rapp preached from a raised platform. It was customary for men to sit to his right and women to sit to his left on pews that remain to this day.
Atop the church sits a clock with one hand--it was thought that members did not need to know how many minutes there were in an hour. It might affect their work habits!
St. John's Lutheran Church now inhabits the building.
The Granary stored a year's supply of grain for the Harmonists. It's a larger version of a Wurttemberg barn, several stories high and of traditional half timber and frame construction.
Goods were stored on the first floor and grain on the additional floors. The ground level floor was also used to bottle wine.
The building was placed in a north-south position so that the sun would hit the shorter end on the south side, keeping the wider sides cooler. There were three such granaries in Economy.
Some of the shops providing merchandise to the society or for trade or purchase by those living outside the community were located here.
Our informative guide escorted us through some of the buildings, while others with their outbuildings could be accessed by general tour of the historic area. White picket fences, trellised grapevines scaling the sides of the buildings and other authentic touches beckon visitors to return to Economy's past.
Mr. R.L. Baker's home, one of the trustees for the Society; the Harmonist Store and Post Office, which Mr. Baker managed; the Mechanics Building with Wine Cellar and finally the Feast Hall/Natural History Museum stretched one after the other along a narrow cobblestone road leading to the Ohio River.
The Harmonist Store carried goods produced by the Society for distribution to its members* or for sale to the community beyond.
R.L. Baker was the storekeeper overseeing the sale of woolen and cotton goods, wine and other products made by members. Farmers from the outside would bring their wool to the Harmonists, then receive credit in order to purchase things they needed from the store. The members of Old Economy had a successful retail business.
*Those people joining the Harmonists would receive all they needed without cost. It was one of America's most successful communal societies.
There are still many surviving buildings from the Harmonist period outside of the Old Economy Village that you can wander past. The district surrounding the Visitor Center consists of a grid pattern of eight streets within which there are over 90 Harmonist buildings - most being houses that are still lived in. Built of brick or wood siding, the homes were regularly spaced and uniformly of two stories with doors that would open onto gardens rather than the street. Most all of the wood frame homes have been covered now with more modern siding, but the brick homes are still visibly Harmonist.
This is the only surviving of two such buildings which were used to house one year’s supply of grain to be used by the Harmonists when Christ returned to Earth. This could be a tie to the modern Mormon tradition of families maintaining a year’s supply of food within their homes - there are a few other ties between the Harmonists and subsequent Mormon movement, as well. The building is five-storied and there is a cider storage cellar beneath.