Pennsylvania, Beaver County, Ambridge
river mile 17
In 1824 the members of the Harmony Society sold their marshy town on the banks of the Wabash River in Indiana to another set of idealists and moved back to Pennsylvania, where they had started. To this broad fertile plain on a bluff high above the Ohio River, in addition to farming they laid out and built a gridded town of 120 solid two-story houses, some frame and some brick, each with its plot of land for a substantial garden. In addition to farming they took on early industrial pursuits, including weaving cotton, wool, and silk fabrics, and eventually into lucrative investments in coal, oil, and gas, all in pursuit of the idea that they would rebuild the Temple when Christ returned to earth.
This religious communal group was one of the most successful of many similar ones in the US in the 19thcentury. With the death of its founder at the age of 90 in 1846, absent an heir, and the increasing age of its members, who followed a policy of celibacy, the Society, after trying to hire Chinese contract laborers, dwindled and was formally disbanded.
Its industrial and agricultural properties were acquired by a firm that eventually become the American Bridge Company, a nationally renowned supplier of bridge materials throughout the 20thcentury. The 80 remaining Harmonist houses, some still in brick, others adapted to other styles, are interspersed with the prosperous residences of every subsequent decade. This intermingling gives the town a fascinating character.
The Visitor Center has an interesting small museum, worth visiting, but since it is a State Historic Site neither bicyclists nor paddlers will find accommodation here. Nonetheless it is worth visiting both for the distinctive town landscape and for the juxtaposition of spiritual and material beliefs the Harmonists presents.
Next park: Rochester Riverfront Park
Field research July 2018