Harmony Historic District
The Harmony Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It is designated a National Historic Landmark. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
Harmony was laid out by George Rapp in 1804 on land (5,000 acres) purchased from Detmar Basse. In the spring of 1805 the 300 followers of Rapp, who had spent the winter in Philadelphia and Baltimore, moved to the tract of land in the forests of Butler County. The religious community, known as the Harmonie Society, was formally established as a communistic unit with a common fund in February of 1805. In the ensuing ten years, the Society, under the aegis of George Rapp and Frederick Reichert his adopted son, developed into a prosperous agricultural and manufacturing community.
A number of buildings built by the Harmonists between 1805 and 1814 are still extant. In general the architectural style is a fusion of old world tradition and the current colonial styles. The original log cabins built in 1804-05 were quickly replaced by more substantial brick buildings. The town was laid out around a central square and surrounded by fields, gardens, and meadows. A large maze-garden was the particular pride of George Rapp. By 1814 the town had approximately 150 structures including six large brick houses, an inn, a store, a meetinghouse, a brick weavery, a dyeing factory, two woolen factories, a four story granary, two distilleries, two flour mills, two fulling mills, a brewery, a nail factory, a hemp mill, an oil factory, four large barns, and a large brick warehouse at the confluence of the Ohio and Beaver Rivers. Surviving Harmonist buildings are as follows:
Great House (Bentel Building), Mercer and Main Sts., a large 2 1/2 story, brick building with a two story rear extension. The basement contains a stone arched wine cellar. The main entrance has a carved stone lintel with a keystone depicting the Virgin Sophia. The building now houses a museum depicting the early life of the community.
Harmonist Church (1808), Mercer & Main Sts., a two story brick building with long rectangular windows. A new facade and tower have been added in recent years and most of the original interiors removed.
Langenbacher House, Main St., a 2 1/2 story, stucco over brick house with a rear two story hall and meeting room addition. A two story porch runs across the front facade. One of the first large buildings built by the Harmonists.
Frederick Rapp House, North Main St., a 2 1/2 story brick house built for Rapp's adopted son. The house has a fine Georgian doorway with fanlight. The brick is laid in Flemish bond with glazed headers.
The Stohr, Main St., a large 2 1/2 story, gable roof, brick building which served as the community store. The original entrances, now bricked windows, have carved stone frames.
Beam Hotel, Main & Mercer St., a large 3 story brick building with rear extension. The lintel stone over one entrance bears the date of 1806. The third story is a much later addition.
Opera House, Mercer St., a two story, brick and frame building. The second floor is frame covered with clapboard. Two palladian windows are located in the second floor facade.
Three of the Society's members' houses also survive. The Wagner House on Main St., the Schmitt House on Main St., and the Schreiber House on Wood St., are all 2 1/2 story, gable roof, brick houses of simple design. Two Mennonite houses at German and Wood Sts. and Main and Jackson Sts. are also located within the district. These 2 1/2 story, simple brick houses were built in the 1820's after the Harmonists had sold their holdings and moved to Indiana.
All of the above buildings have undergone alterations of varying degrees, yet as a whole are in fair to good condition.
The Harmony Historic District includes most of the extant buildings of the original town. The boundaries of the district run as follows: beginning at the point of the intersection of the north side of German Street and the east side of Church Alley, thence eastward along the north side of German Street to the west side of Wood Street; thence north along the west side of Wood Street to the northwest corner of Mercer and Wood Streets; thence east along the north side of Mercer Street to the rear property line of the houses fronting on Wood Street; thence north to the northeast corner of the Schreiber property; thence west along the north property line to the west side of Wood Street; thence north along the west side of Wood Street to the south bank of the Connoquenessing Creek; thence west along the south bank to the east side of Wilson Alley extended; thence south along the east side of Wilson and Church Alleys to German Street.
Harmony was the first home of the Harmonie Society, formally established by George Rapp in 1805. Organized as a communitarian theocracy under Rapp's spiritual control, the small group of German pietists built a prosperous community in the Pennsylvania wilderness within the span of 10 years.
Rapp arrived in Baltimore in 1803, purchased a large tract of land in Butler County the next year, and immediately set about carving a town out of the wilderness. The original log cabins were soon replaced by substantial brick houses. Under the guidance of Frederick Rapp the economy of the group grew from one of self-subsistence agriculture to one of diversified manufacturing. By 1814 the Society and 700 members, a town of 150 brick buildings, numerous factories and processing plants, and 7,000 acres of land, 2,000 of which was cleared. Its manufactured products, particularly textiles and woolens, gained a widespread reputation for excellence. By 1814 the Society had outgrown its markets, and this along with the desire to find land suitable for vineyards prompted the Society to sell all their holdings to a Mennonite group and move to a site on the Wabash River in Indiana. Here again they built a prosperous community only to sell it to Robert Owens in 1825. The Society returned to Pennsylvania and built their third and final home at Economy on the Ohio River. The peak of their financial prosperity was reached in 1866. The practice of celibacy and the usual schisms thinned the Society's ranks, yet the community was not dissolved until 1905.
The Harmonie Society was one of the most successful of America's many utopian communities. Its high degree of commercialization caused it to play an important role in the commerce and industry of western Pennsylvania. Harmonist manufactures were sold as far away as New Orleans, and their investments in rails, canals, oil fields, lumber, and banks, provided a great stimulus to the local economy. The surviving buildings of Harmony provide a keen insight into the live of this community. Many of the houses have great architectural merit. The Frederick Rapp house with its fine exterior decoration is particularly significant. The proposed historic district will include most of the old town center and insure the preservation of the first home of the Harmonie Society.
Arndt, Karl J. R. George Rapp's Harmony Society: 1785-1847. Philadelphia: University of Pa., 1965.
Stotz, Charles M. Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh: Buhl Foundation, 1936.
Duss, John S. The Harmonists, A Personal History. Harrisburg: The Pennsylvania Book Service, 1943.
Albach, James R. Annals of the West. Pittsburgh: W. S. Haven, 1856.