After the Harmonists
Old Economy, PennsylvaniaOn April 11, 1824 Rapp commissioned Richard Flower of Albion to advertise New Harmony for sale. That same month, 3,000 acres were purchased in Beaver County, PA, on the Ohio River, 10 miles north of Pittsburgh. In May an advance team started upriver on th e steamboat "William Penn." New Harmony was sold to Robert Owen in January 1825, and the last unit of Harmonists arrived in the new town of Economy in June 1825.
In Economy most of the shops and homes were larger and more comfortable. The Harmonists had better machines, and were able to develop their industries. Agricultural products were produced mainly for the Society's consumption. It was at Economy that silk manufacture began under the direction of Gertrude Rapp. The Harmonists had been planning silk production while still in Indiana, and had planted mulberry trees toward that goal.
But disruptive events occurred almost immediately. Rapp became stricter. There were several withdrawals from the community over celibacy. New Articles of Agreement were drafted in 1826/1827, giving Rapp increased power. Many members did not approve of the m, and some even withdrew rather than signing the Agreement. Between 1823 and 1825 there had been only 6 withdrawals from the Society, in 1826 there were 26, in 1828 there were 20, and 24 in 1829.
At Economy, Rapp had predicted that on September 15, 1829, the age of the "three and one half times of the Sunwoman" described in Revelation was ended and a new age would begin. The Harmonists were greatly disappointed when that date passed uneventfully. Then on September 24, an impressive letter arrived from Germany, in which was written much about the Harmony Society and the significance of recent events to the prophesy in Revelation. The letter was written by one who called himself the "Lion of Judah" who had been promised to the world in Revelation 5:9. In actuality the Lion was one Bernhard Müller. The Harmonists eagerly responded to his letter. In the two years between the letter and the arrival of Müller at Economy, Rapp preached that the Lion of Judah was the Anointed One who would lead the Harmonists into the new age. The congregation was in a state of great expectation. When the Lion of Judah arrived in 1831, now with the adopted name of Count de Leon, he had an aide with him and sever al European families of high standing, all of whom were housed at Economy as welcomed guests.
However, before long, the Count and Rapp were disappointed with each other. Rapp decided the Count was not, after all, the man to lead his flock into the millennium. And the Count was taken aback by dissatisfaction he sensed among Society members. The two also disagreed over the issue of celibacy. Early in 1832, one third of the Society, about 250 members, proclaimed they were the "true Harmonists" and all others were seceders who had departed from the Society's original purpose. They organized a democrat ic form of government, deposing the Rapps as leaders. They named the Count as their temporary head. These dissenters had based their faith in the Count on his claim to have found the Philosopher's Stone.[Rapp, too, had devoted much energy to finding the Stone after moving to Economy.] In response, the two thirds of the Society standing by Rapp also organized a pseudo-democratic form of government, consisting of a Council of twelve Elders to be elected annually by the male members. The leadership of the Rapps was reconfirmed.
An agreement between the two factions was reached in March 1832 when about 176 dissenters, including Dr. Johann Christoph Müller, agreed to leave Economy and to relinquish all claim to Harmony Society property in exchange for their household possessi ons and $105,000 cash. Led by Count de Leon, the group organized a community in Phillipsburg, PA, the New Philadelphia Society. Some of those members organized two other communities. Other Harmonists who had left Economy with the Count joined the "Keilite s," who established the communities of Bethel and Ninevah in Missouri, Willapa in Washington, and Aurora in Oregon.
The Schism of 1832 marked the beginning of the decline of the membership. Rapp became increasingly uncompromising. He decided not to accept any new members, other than children already in the Society, and perhaps a few close relatives of current members. In 1836, to help insure the economic stability of the community, Rapp directed the members to sign a statement declaring Article IV of the Articles of Association invalid. This was the controversial requirement providing for return of property to depart ing members.
George Rapp died in 1847 at the age of 89. After his death, 288 members signed new Articles of Agreement. A board of nine Elders was established to govern the society. By 1867 the Harmonists had been reduced to 146 members and had shifted to investments i n oil and railroads, increasing the Society's wealth into the millions. The Society's membership declined because of its policy of celibacy and the lack of new members. After Gertrude Rapp and Jonathan Lenz died in the winter of 1889/1890, several members were admitted, among them John Duss, son of a hired worker for the community. Within six months he became a junior trustee, and gained absolute control of the Society after Henrici's death in 1892. Duss began fo rcing members out, and soon began liquidating Society property. He then succeeded in transferring all Society assets to himself. In his ego trip he hired the New York Philharmonic and took the orchestra around the country under his baton. The Society officially dissolved in 1905. Its real property went to the State of Pennsylvania in 191 6, which brought to naught any inheritance hopes of the Harmonists' relatives in Germany.
Economy today is part of Ambridge, PA. Old Economy Village is located on PA Route 65 and is administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. It is a six acre historic site with 17 original, restored buildings, dating to 1824-1830, an ext
ensive artifact collection and archives. For information, contact:
Old Economy Village
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