"The Wonder of the West"
August 30, 2013 10:58 AM Subscribe
New Harmony, Indiana
is a small town whose history is rooted in not one but two attempted utopian communities.
First was the Harmony Society
, which put down its roots in the town in 1816. Economically successful for several years, the Harmonites practiced a mixture of Christianity and mysticism, one of its icons being the sprawling labyrinths they built wherever they went
In 1825, they sold the entire town to the Welsh manufacturer and philanthropist Robert Owen
. A socialist, Owen's philosophies were rooted in "fair exchange, just price, and the right to charity.
" In May of that year, the town adopted its own Constitution
Under the preliminary constitution, members would provide their own household goods and invest their capital at interest in an enterprise that would promote independence and social equality. Members would render services to the community in exchange for credit at the town's store, but those who did not want to work could purchase credit at the store with cash payments made in advance.
The community, "a heterogenous collection of Radicals, enthusiastic devotees to principle, honest latitudinarians, and lazy theorists, with a sprinkling of unprincipled sharpers thrown in,
" splintered and failed just two years later.
New Harmony's legacy contains many noteworthy contributions to science and social reform
. The town also was home to early feminist activity, which "increased national awareness of the issue of women’s suffrage
Today, the opera house the Harmonites built in 1824 is still there
, showing movies on weekends; the town is a haven for artists and performers
; most of its residents travel either by foot or golf cart
; the Atheneum
, which has won a number of awards for its architecture, serves as a central hub for visitors; and the labyrinth is there, too
, reconstructed near the site of the original. The town will celebrate its bicentennial in 2014