Monday, December 30, 2013


Highlights of our recent visit to Pennsylvania continue with the historic town of Harmony, Pennsylvania.  It is the nearest town to the farm where Neal grew up.  The current population is listed at 937 and the whole town is about 1/2 square mile.

The town of Harmony or Harmonie, as it was originally named, was established in 1804 by a communal group known as the Harmony Society or Harmonites.  The Harmonites lived here for ten years and sold the town to Mennonites before moving on to Indiana in 1815.

I have always enjoyed visiting Harmony so let's take a tour.  Along the town square is the Harmony Museum.  It was built by the Harmonites in 1809 and has an amazing vaulted wine cellar in the basement.  It's closed on Mondays so we couldn't go inside on this visit.

In the center of the town square are two war memorials shaped like keystones, which is the symbol for Pennsylvania, known as the Keystone State.  There are no traffic lights in Harmony since stop signs are enough to keep the traffic flowing.  To the right you see Sapienza's Market (white building) on the corner.  It's for sale now but when I first began visiting here it was still a busy grocery market.  The yellow building is the old bakery, also built by the Harmonites.

The building is still a bakery.

Also along the square is the Ziegler cabin.  The Zieglers were Mennonites who bought the town from the Harmonites in 1815, and this cabin was built in 1819.

The Bottlebrush Shop on the town square features work by local artists

An historic house near the town square.

From the town square looking down Mercer Street some original Harmonite buildings can be seen along with buildings of various vintages, but mainly from the 1800s.  The hill in the distance is Vineyard Hill, which we'll tour later.

Walking down Mercer Street we see quite a few historic buildings.  The original Harmonite buildings are plain but very well built.

This more ornate building is of later vintage.

Down near the end of Mercer Street stands the old Harmony Opera House where my brother-in-law had his antique shop for a while.  There's a coffee shop and boutique on the lower level.  The opera stage and seating area is the entire second floor, and was quite ornate in its time.  It was on the tour circuit for many important opera companies in the early 1900s because a train stop is nearby.

The old stable for the Opera House is now a sandwich shop.

Note the slate roof is very old as shown by the wear and the large size of the tiles.

Across the street from the Opera House the Shever Brothers Hardware building looks like a film set, but has lately become more like a version of a suburban strip mall.

Looking back up Mercer Street toward the town square from the Opera House.

This Italianate house was built as a private home for a railroad executive and businessman in 1852.  The railroad stop was just down the street a block.  For many years the Harmony Inn was a boarding house and now a restaurant popular with locals.

Four log cabins were moved into town from surrounding farms.

One of Harmony's most iconic buildings is Knauf's Feed Mill on Spring Street at German Street.  When I first visited Knauf's Mill it was still in operation and the porch was stacked high with feed and items for local farmers.

Like other buildings in town it is awaiting a new use.

Across the bridge at the end of Mercer Street is Vineyard Hill.  George Rapp was the leader of the colony and used to sit on top of this hill on a unique "seat" to observe work going on in the community below. 

At one point the tree roots are also steps.

Approaching Father Rapp's seat, which is a natural outcropping of rocks at the top of Vineyard Hill.

Father Rapp's Seat is down under the outcropping.

Father Rapp's seat carved into the stone hillside on Vineyard Hill overlooking the town of Harmony.

Views of Harmony across the Connequenessing Creek from above Father Rapp's Seat.  The land was used to grow grapes in the 1800s so the view was less obstructed without the current trees.

During our trip I was often amazed at the size of the creeks.  Creeks in San Antonio are often dry unless it is raining and rivers are the size of this creek.

The most unusual sight in town is the Harmonite Cemetery on a hill overlooking Harmony.  From Mercer Street the cemetery is past Knauf's Mill.

Amazing stonework with a gate made of stone tablets balanced on ironwork that has stood here for more than 200 years.  The gate represents the Mosaic Tablets of the Ten Commandments.  The gate weighs over a ton but can be pushed open with one finger.  Note Knauf's mill in the background.

The carving over the gate has weathered so a sign gives you the text in German along with an English translation.

The heavy stone gate is easy to open because it is balanced on iron pins.

The 200 year old iron pins which balance the gate shown top and bottom (R) the gate latch is on the left.

Neal demonstrates just how easy it is to close the stone gate.

Did you notice the most unusual and surprising sight?  No headstones in this cemetery.

The Harmonites did not believe in marked graves.  There are 100 members of the society buried here during 1805 - 1815.

Only one marker was ever placed, that for the son of the founder of the Harmonites.

Looking back at the gate from inside the walls.

These stone finials are placed atop the walls surrounding the cemetery.

A look back up the hill from the road.

Imagine my first visit years ago when I saw this little town of less than 1,000 people and so different from my own hometown of Houston which is nearing the 7 million mark in population!  Harmony is a town somewhat like its founders, a place stuck in time.  It is quaint, but also not reconstucted like some of the more popular historic destination towns.  In that way it is an unusual place and, while a few folks drive out from Pittsburgh now and then, appears to be waiting its turn to be "found".


  1. As someone who lives in the land of "here today and gone tomorrow," it's nice to know that towns like this still exist. Although there appear to be a number of buildings waiting to find another use as you put it, I was surprised to see how much was currently in use. I find the idea of living in a town of less than 1000 people kind of attractive - heck, my high school graduation class had more than 1000 people.

    1. Some of these buildings have been in continuous use as businesses since they were built. Pretty amazing. My high school class was just under 1000 so I know exactly the feeling. The other side of the small town life is that everyone knows everything about you for generations back.

  2. Although I haven't commented much I really am enjoying this series. That cemetery really has my mind working...

    1. Amazing isn't it. The photos don't exactly capture what the empty cemetery feels like to be there and I have read that it is a popular meeting place at Halloween. The "Night of the Living Dead" was filmed just a few miles away.

  3. Shirley, thanks for such an interesting and informative tour of Harmony. I'd never heard of the Harmonites before. I'll do some research and find out more about them. As always, your photos are so wonderful. I'm so glad you showed the old buildings and talked about their current uses. But the cemetary was the most interesting with that incredible gate and the graves with no markers! Wonder what the thinking was that would make them not want to identify the people who died. Did they keep records somewhere else? Maybe some day I'll get to visit Harmony in person, although it will be in summer since I like looking at snow in photos not actually being in it! May you have a new year full of new adventures to blog about!

    1. The Harmonites were a small group compared to the Amish and Mennonites who are still around. I'll have to research whether they have records but there must be some info they know.

      I expect you'll be along on at least some of those adventures!

  4. I love small towns and old buildings. It's always nice to see an old place that hasn't seen too much 'progress'.
    I don't believe I've ever seen a cemetery with no head stones. Fascinating...

    1. I tried to research if there was another like it and couldn't find anything so it's possible it's the only one out there.

  5. Thank you Shirley I have really enjoyed this tour. Absolutely fascinating and your photographs have captured the character of these beautiful towns and rural life wonderfully.

    1. These places have become like a second home to me over the years and I have always enjoyed visiting. While most places we have lived change rapidly these communities have remained very much the same for decades.

  6. A picturesque town! Having come from a town of 750 people, I would enjoy the small town vibe and this place, with so many of its original buildings still standing and in use is very special! Thanks for the tour and history!

    1. An even smaller town than Harmony is not easy to imagine but I know they are out there. Glad you could enjoy the tours.

  7. Wonderful pics! My to do list keeps getting longer and longer. Thanks for sharing.

    Tom The Backroads Traveller

    1. That's nice that you could find more backroads places to add to your list. All these places are within 30 minutes of each other so you can easily do them all in one day.

  8. What a great place, like a movie set. My brother lives in PA, and we are going to have to find Harmony next time we visit.

  9. Have you looked into any research about the Harmonites by contacting Old Economy Village in Economy, PA? The Harmonites left Harmony, PA in the mid-1800s as they did not have the space or type of soil needed to grow grapes. They created a new colony in Indiana also called Harmony. George Rapp and his followers later moved back to Pennsylvania and settled in Old Economy, PA. The village in Economy is not a tourist attraction, similar to Jamestown. I grew up in the area and my sister actually lives in Harmony now. It is a very fascinating place to visit. I especially enjoyed your pictures of the cemetery as I have passed it many times, but have never actually gone inside the walls. Another place of interest in this area is the Mennonite church building that is located on 19, just north of Zelienople.

  10. I have been working on my family tree for years on Ancestry and with the recent addition of a large number of records, I was finally able to get some real progress! I actually learned that my ancestors were the Rapps and they created this town and religion. Today I was talking to a coworker who followed in my steps and took the ancestry DNA test and we were discussing the new DNA story feature. I hadn't looked at mine, so I grabbed my phone and checked it out. I saw the migration pattern of my family from Germany to PA and again, got caught up in history and googled Harmony hoping for some new discovery. I discovered more than I could have dreamed of when I clicked this thread!

    You have no idea what this post means to me! I will probably never make it there myself, but to see your wonderful photos makes me feel like I have been there and makes me feel a little connected to my past. I can't thank you enough for this. It has made me emotional. I can't wait to share it with my dad!

    As fate would have it, I actually came across a book called New Harmony's First Utopians in a local library book sale of all places, just weeks after learning these were my ancestors! It's full of information, old drawings and photos, ect... but it did not bring nearly the number of feelings that your post did. thank you, thank you, thank you! from the bottom of my heart, truly.

  11. I just read in the farm and dairy paper, that the feed mill was made into a home, I would love to see inside photos.


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