We visited the Harmonist Cemetery on a cold, blowing winter's night -- creepy! What's even more unusual is that this cemetery has no headstones (well, OK... one headstone).
Harmony is a small town with a unique history, and the Harmonist Cemetery is a key part of this history. The Harmonist Society, a group of communal religious pacifist separatists, arrived in Pennsylvania from Germany in 1804. They built the town of Harmony for their community, where they lived according to their beliefs for 10 years before selling the town to Amish farmers and moving to Indiana. Later the Harmonists returned to PA, and founded the town of Economy. Because the Harmonists didn't believe in marriage, procreation, or admitting others to their society, the group soon died off and was disbanded, but their history remains.
The Harmonist Cemetery is the final resting place for 100 members of the Harmonist Society who died during their first 10 years in America. The Harmonist Society did not believe in marking graves, so the cemetery just looks like an open rectangular field surrounded by a sturdy stone wall. The walls of the cemetery are aligned almost perfectly with the compass directions, and the east wall contains the cemetery's only gate. This amazing stone gate weighs about a ton and pivots on a single point int he middle of the gate.
You can find an aerial image of the cemetery here: http://goo.gl/maps/uKxSL
A sign at the cemetery reads,
Burial place of Harmonist
Society, 1805-1815. Graves
were not marked. The stone
wall was built in 1869,
after the Harmonists had
returned from Indiana and
settled at "Old Economy,"
in Beaver County
Harmony has a number of small cabins around town. I noticed at least three, including Little Creek Cabin, which used to be a cafe (and was for sale in summer 2011). Another cabin was located right behind Grace Church. The cabins appeared to be private homes, or perhaps properties of Historic Harmony, Inc.
Some of the cabins date back to the early 1800s and were constructed by the Harmonist Society.
The Harmony Museum stands at the main intersection of central Harmony.
The museum is owned by Historic Harmony, Inc. Founded in 1943, this local organization owns and maintains eight historic properties including the Mennonite Meetinghouse, the Mennonite Cemetery, and the Harmony Society Cemetery.
Harmony's Mennonite Meetinghouse is the oldest Mennonite meeting house west of the Alleghenies, built in 1825 next to the cemetery. About two thirds of the structure is original, and the remainder of the building was added later. The interior of the structure is laid out with a central altar and benches for the parishioners, much as it must have been in its early days. The meeting house is available for rent for about $150 a day.
Mennonites from eastern Pennsylvania began settling the Harmony area in 1815 and worshipped in the former Harmony Society meetinghouse or in homes until building this meeting house in 1825. The brick council room was an early addition; the cemetery dates from 1815.
The Harmony Mennonite meetinghouse is the oldest west of the Alleghenies and is believed to be the most original early Mennonite meetinghouse in the nation. Its design may have been influenced by the 1755 Hereford meetinghouse, Berks County, from which came Bishop John Boyer in 1816. Men entered at front, women at the side; men sat on one side, probably to the right, women on the other.
The congregation dwindled as descendants joined other churches or moved away, and regular services ceased in 1902. The last minister, Rev. Joseph Ziegler, youngest son of Abraham Ziegler, died in 1904.
The Mennonite sect is named for 16th century Dutch reformer Menno Simons. It descends from Anabaptist, evangelical Reformation Protestants who didn't baptize children, were pacifist and believed in separation of church and state. Major migrations of European Mennonites fleeing persecution or militarism included Swiss to eastern Pennsylvania, and Alsatians, Germans and Swiss to western Pennsylvania, the Midwest and Ontario in the Early 1800's.
Historic Harmony Inc.
Historic Harmony's burial ground has been a Mennonite cemetery since the Mennonites purchased the town from the Harmonist Society of George Rapp in 1814. The earliest grave markers date from the 1810s and the newest markers are from the 1950s. Many of the stones are very worn and difficult to read. Most of those buried here have good German names like Fiedler, Hallstein, Hunsberger, Musselman, Rodenbach, Schaffer, Schantz, Schwartz, Stauffer, Weisz and Zeigler.
A full list of the tombstones is located here: http://www.usgwarchives.org/pa/butler/tombstones/harmonymennonite-jackson.htm
It was a gloomy Fall day when Mom and I ventured out to visit the Harmonist Cemetery, which lies outside the small town of Harmony.
This cemetery sits on a high knoll and is surrounded by a stone wall whose entrance contains a fascinating rotating gate. One good, hard push gains entrance through the revolving one-ton stone door. The public is permitted to enter the graveyard, but are urged to be respectful while visiting.
None of the graves are marked, but records show there are at least 100 members of the Harmonist Society buried here. Since there are no tombstones to read, the most interesting features are the wall and stone gate. Combined with a trip to the Harmony Museum and the village itself, a stop here would make for an interesting historical outing.
One of the oldest Mennonite meeting houses West of the Alleghenies sits perched upon a small hill North of Harmony, Pennsylvania. Mom and I stopped here on our way home from a 'girls getaway weekend' this Fall.
It had rained the evening before, so the grass was a bit mushy near the site. A low wall surrounded the cemetery, whose entrance was a waist-high black iron gate. However, it would not budge as I made an effort to enter in to read the old headstones (pic#2). If it hadn't been so wet, perhaps I would have jumped the fence!!
This meeting house was constructed in 1825 and is made of brick and stone. The brick annex was added soon after. Experts say it's a good example and most original of the early Mennonite meeting houses.
At these meeting houses, services were always in German. The last service held in this spot was 1902.
When combining a trip to the village of Harmony and its museum with a side trip to the Harmonist Cemetery and Mennonite Meeting House and Cemetery, you could have a very interesting afternoon!
The Harmonists believed in equality in death as in life. When they died, they were buried in unmarked graves. Graves were only supposed to be temporary resting places anyway since Jesus was to return in the very near future, bringing with him the New Millennium. What was the point in marking a grave? As time went on and the Second Coming seemed to be on hold, the Harmonist Society, then relocated to Economy, had local Mennonite stonemasons erect a wall around the cemetery and built the unique revolving stone gate - which weighs over a ton. The stone gate signifies one world being exchanged for another. Inside the cemetery only one marker is found and that is a memorial for George Rapp’s son, Johannes. The marker was erected by non-Harmonists and reluctantly accepted by the Society. The memorial is not upon Johannes’ grave, however, as his grave, as is so with the other 100 members buried here, was never marked.
Cross the bridge over Connoquenessing Creek and turn right on the first road. A short ways on the left, you come up to a path of stairs - developed by the local Boy Scouts - that takes you up to Rapp’s Seat. The forest wasn’t here then as it was the site of the Harmonist sandstone quarry, vineyard and music pavilion. Here, upon a seat carved into the rock, Father Rapp meditated and oversaw his flock from on high.
Established in 1809 as the meeting hall for the Harmonist Society, this is the oldest continued church in Butler County. Mennonites took over the church in 1814, using it until another German congregation moved in in 1826. The church was affiliated with the German Evangelical and Reformed Church until the local congregation withdrew from the merged United Church of Christ - the German Evangelical and Reformed Church had merged with the Congregation Christian Churches in 1957 forming the UCC - and goes its own non-denominational way today. Most of the church you see dates from 1929 and 2001, but there are sections - one sidewall and the rear of the church - that date back to the original Harmonist church. It is interesting to note that both the present pastor and assistant pastor studied at the Dallas Theological Seminary, a school known for pre-millenarian thought - beliefs similar to those held dear by Father Rapp.
Frederick Riechert was one of George Rapp’s more important and devoted followers. He was instrumental in arranging for the movement of the Harmonist society to America. Adopted by George as his a son in 1805, Frederick would go on to become the Society’s business leader and public spokesman - very few other Harmonists could speak English. He would have become the leader of the Society in the unlikely event of George Rapp’s death preceded the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Frederick continued to play a leading role as the Society moved to Indiana and then to Economy, Pennsylvania. His death preceded his adopted father by some 13 years.
Born in Iptigen, Germany - 25 km northwest of Stuttgart - in 1757, George Rapp inspired by pietistic theologians began gathering like-minded followers in the 1780’s. Eventually the local government came down hard on him when those numbers swelled to some 12,000 and Rapp left Germany for the ‘land of Israel’ here in western Pennsylvania. It was in this house that Rapp lived with his wife, son and daughter - celibacy not yet being the Harmonic order of the day - during their time in Harmony. The house is privately owned and has obviously seen many renovations in the 200 years since the Rapps lived here.
Housed in an old Harmonist granary/warehouse that served to sell goods to outsiders, the Harmony Museum divides its exhibits between the Harmonist period and the longer subsequent Mennonite times. It is interesting to compare the architecture here to that found in Economy - the third and last Harmonist village, Bethel Missouri, and Aurora, Oregon - other Germanic Christian communal towns with strong ties to the Harmony Society. Look carefully at the carved stone lintel above the main entrance. This is the ‘Virgin Sophia’, a mystical virgin spirit or Goddess that comes up repeatedly in the writings of George Rapp. It is thought to have been carved by Frederick Rapp, the adopted son of George Rapp and an important Harmonist figure in his own right. Beneath the Museum is a large wine cellar - one of two in Harmony - with the production of wine being important to the Harmonists. On your visit to the museum, you will also be taken across the street to a Mennonite log cabin that has been moved into town from the countryside, as well as another home that served as a duplex for a pair of Harmonist sisters and their families - a gift shop is located in part of the first floor of the house. Pick up a street map of the town showing the different sites you can see - the town is small enough to cover easily on foot. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday 1-4 pm.
I'm placing The Harmony Inn in this category because it's a very interesting site. Not only can you take a peek at this Italianate-style home, but enjoy a meal, too.
This was once the residence of Austin Pearce, who constructed it in 1856. He not only was a railroad executive at the PNC&E Railroad, but a banker and mill operator, as well.
After enduring financial difficulties, Pearce sold his home to the Ziegler family who established it as a hotel and saloon. The Ziegler's were descendants of Mennonites who traveled here after Georg Rapp's Harmonite society moved on.
In 1985, Carl Beers and Gary and Betsy Barnes took ownership of the Inn. Their intent was to restore the 'grandness of its past'.The Inn has a colorful history, which you can read about once you visit.
The cuisine is American, with Mexican and German specialties.
Example: Spinach, Crab & Artichoke Dip appetizer ($7.95)
Harmony Shrimp Basket-8 jumbo butterfly shrimp lightly fried, served with fries, lemon and cocktail sauce ($7.95)
Chicken Ranch Wrap ($7.95)
Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes sauteed golden brown and served with garlic ($17.95)
Burrito Bouderado-a huge burrito stuffed with beef, beans and rice, smothered in red chlii sauce, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, black olives,melted cheese and sour cream ($10.95)
A pretty outdoor patio surrounded by tall trees, accented with a pretty fountain creates a peaceful oasis from a day of viewing historic homes and shopping for antiques.
This austere looking brick home is the Wagner Bentle House, erected for two sisters and their family members. This duplex sits next door to the Harmony Museum. The interior has two stone fireplaces, but only one chimney.
Upon entry you'll find a display on doctoring in the 19th and 20th centuries. Also, note the historic clock which once kept time in the Meetinghouse tower. Old homes are appealing to me--I love the scent of aged wood and the echo of footsteps on wood planked floors.
The Harmony Museum has restored this home and now uses it as a gift shop (pic #2). You can find crafts, books and souvenirs here.
Hours are Tuesday-Sunday 1pm-4pm; closed Mondays and Holidays