Daytrippers: Head to historic Harmony
Looking for a day trip replete with history, food and maybe a little weaving?
Look no further than the little town of Harmony.
Packed with early American history, Harmony offers visitors old-world German charm amidst specialty shops, eateries and preserved buildings. Tourists frequent annual Harmony events including a German Christmas Market, Herb and Garden Fair, Polar Plunge, Summer Concert Series and Silverster, a New Year’s Eve celebration.
Located about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh in Butler County, the town was founded in 1804 as a religious commune by German Lutheran separatist George Rapp.
Rapp brought about 750 settlers with him from Germany in 1803, forming the Harmonist Society in 1804 (also called Rappites). They pooled their earthly possessions, advocated celibacy, adhered to a uniform dress code, shunned tobacco use and prepared for the end of time, which Rapp assured his followers would be very soon.
Alas, the end of the world didn’t occur and, by 1812, the Harmonist population hovered at nearly 1,000 and the settlement grew to more than 100 buildings that included a town square, church, tavern, school, tannery, grist mill and brewery.
Their Utopian agriculture-based society didn’t prosper, ultimately leading to the town being sold to Abraham Ziegler, a Mennonite blacksmith.
The original Harmonists relocated to Indiana, Pa., but the quaint planned village of Harmony remains and was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1974.
Ready to go? Here are some things to do and places to see.
Kick off your visit here and delve into more than 250 years of history with presentations on Native Americans, a permanent exhibit on George Washington’s 1753 mission to Western Pennsylvania and knowledgeable docents answering questions about the Harmonists and later Mennonites who settled the area.
“These were German societies, and tourists have lots of questions about why they moved here and what did they care about,” says docent and summer intern Gryphon Ludwig. “George Washington referred to this area in his journals as ‘murdering town’ and although we don’t know the exact origin of that name, it was a Native American village.”
Details: 218 Mercer St.; 724-452-7341; open 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; one-hour guided tours; $7 adults, $6 seniors, $3 children
Harmony Self-Guided Walking Tour
Grab a free walking tour brochure from the Harmony Museum and set out to explore 28 historic points of interest.
Walk around the Harmonist Cemetery, where Harmonists were interred and individual graves were never marked and a 1-ton revolving stone gate constructed in 1869 still exists, symbolic of leaving one world for another world after death.
George Washington’s Trail 1753
A 21-year-old George Washington almost died near Harmony. In 1753, the French, English and Native Americans all laid claim to the Ohio Country (present-day Western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio). Washington was selected by Virginia’s governor to undertake a dangerous three-month mission to demand the French end their occupation of the region.
The village of Harmony is located where Washington crossed American Indian trails. He and the troops endured brutal winter conditions, locating French forts constructed on land claimed by England and instructing the inhabitants to leave.
Journals recorded by Washington and his guide, Christopher Gist, describe an event near modern-day Harmony when an Indian shot at both men. The shot missed but is considered by many historians as the first shot of the French and Indian War.
The Harmony Inn
Locals and tourists flock to this three-story 1856 Italianate eatery/pub located in the heart of the historic district at 230 Mercer St.
Harmony Inn originally served as the residence of Austin Pearce, a prominent banker and mill/railroad executive and was later known as “The Ziegler Hotel.”
Customer favorites of the German- and American-influenced fare served in multiple dining rooms, an outdoor patio and two bar areas include the Brezlen Pretzels, served with homemade mustard and craft brews from North Country Brewing Co.
“Our spaetzel, strudels, Reubens and craft beers are what most people seek out,” says general manager Lauren Baker. “Customers really enjoy our unique atmosphere and we have updated the building, but still keep the historical feel that makes you want to look at every brick and picture in the building to learn our story.”
Ghost enthusiasts like to talk about the haunted side of Harmony while here, with too-many-to-count friendly encounters reported by employees and customers alike.
Several witnesses have reported seeing a young girl in a white dress. Furniture in the inn has mysteriously been rearranged without human help.
“People are interested in experiencing the unknown,” Baker says. “People hear the stories about Harmony Inn paranormal activities and, when they can see it or feel it for themselves, it’s exciting.”
At Weavers Cabin along Mercer Street, volunteers demonstrate authentic weaving, crafts and spinning practiced by Harmonists in 1804.
Interested in trying your hand at a loom? Schedule a “Make It and Take It” program ($20) and weave a small rag rug, scarf or bag to take home. Reserve a spot by email ([email protected]) or stop by the cabin in person.
“This is a slice of weaving, pre-America,” says weaving volunteer Lisel Moser of Harmony. “We have replicas of authentic weavings used in the Harmony homes; and the yarn back then was made from Merino sheep and the men were the primary weavers, and the woven cloth was sold to European markets and primarily in Philadelphia, Boston and New York City in America.”
Details: 234 Mercer St.; 4- 7 p.m Thursdays; noon- 4 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.