As the end of the eighteenth century came to a close in Germany, there were numerous groups of dissenters from the state sponsored Lutheran Church. They were known as Pietists with the more radical groups known as Separatists.These groups leaned towards Communism, Socialism, and Mysticism.
In 1785 a weaver, Johann George Rapp, living in Iptingen, a small village of Wurttemberg had become a leader of such a group. Because of their differences with the civil and ecclesiastical authorities over religious matters, he and his followers considered emigrating to America. Accordingly Rapp and two companions were sent to find a suitable location. They landed in Baltimore early in 1803. After extensive travels, they bought 5000 acres of land from Detmar Basse.
In 1804 three shiploads of Rapp’s followers arrived in America. The first group of settlers arrived in Harmony in November 1804 and erected nine log cabins. They also laid out the town with three streets running north and south with three streets running east and west with a large diamond in the center.
The Harmonists were very industrious people. During 1805, they cleared approximately 150 acres and built 50 houses, a grist mill, a large barn, and some shops. The Pittsburgh-Mercer road was built. It left the present day Route 19 at Toll Gate road south of Zelienople and entered Harmony over Pittsburgh Street and down the steep hill to the current day Mercer Street.
In 1806, four hundred acres were cleared and the sect raised 600 bushels of grain in excess of what they needed. They distilled three thousand gallons of whiskey that year.
The next year, 1807, was a memorable one for the group. While their funds were exhausted, they were able to add to the town by building their church on the diamond. This was also the year that the group adopted the vows of celibacy as well as the banning of the use of tobacco.
The group obtained a liquor license for the Harmony Inn. The Inn had sixteen rooms and appropriate stabling facilities. The Inn, located on the northeast corner of Main and Mercer, was torn down in 1862 and replaced by the Hotel Beam which later became known as Sapienza’s Market. The market closed in 2003 and is currently a private residence of the Sapienza family.
In 1814, the Harmonists left Harmony for New Harmony, Indiana, along theWabash River. There are a variety of reasons that have been given for their departure:
- It was not a good climate for their grapes
- The lack of river transportation.
- Friction with the “outside” world. Because Harmonists were pacifists, they bought exemptions from the War of 1812 for their members. This may not have gone over well with some of their neighbors.
- Selling the property allowed Rapp to obtain title of the society?s lands in his name.
- The community was finished and the members had too much time on their hands.