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Old Economy Village

Ohio-Beaver

Old Economy Village

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Location Details

PHONE: 724-266-4500
ADDRESS: 270 16th Street
Ambridge, PA 15003
HOURS: Closed Jan-Feb; Tues-Sat: 9am-5pm; Sun: Noon-5pm; Open Memorial Day, July 4th, & Labor Day
COST: Adult ( 12 - 64 years) $9.00 Youth( 3 - 11 years) $6.00 Senior Citizens( 65+ ) $8.00 Under 2 years - No Charge

Event Details

Family Festival (July), Erntefest Harvest Festival (Sept), Christmas at the Village (Dec), Christmas Dinner Tour (Dec)

Description

The quiet of Old Economy Village is interrupted by the rush of nearby 21st-century traffic. The buildings stand full of everyday objects, as if the occupants might yet return. The clock on the church steeple shows no minute hand. Minutes, after all, seemed insignificant when the promise of Heaven on Earth was so near.

Old Economy exists today much as it did back in 1824. Founded by the Harmony Society, the town served as a place to work hard, live devoutly, and wait patiently. But things didn’t exactly turn out as Father George Rapp envisioned. Believing that man could live in harmony with his fellow man as well as with God, Rapp set out to prepare his followers, the Harmonists, for the second coming of Christ. The guided tours so far have been pretty steady.

Calling their home along the Ohio River “Oekonomie,” the Harmonists began to thrive. At one time, 800 members lived communally, sharing the joys and hardships equally. Together, they built their church, a meeting house, and homes. They cleared the land to plant and harvest crops. They built shops for the blacksmiths, tanners, and cabinet makers among them. They powered textile mills with steam engines. And, they sold their products throughout the world.

But, despite their economic good fortune, the Harmonists would not survive much beyond the turn of the 20th century. By the 1830s, a third of their members left to follow another self-proclaimed prophet. In 1847, Father Rapp died without ever having witnessed the event he lived for. With storekeeper Romelius Langenbaker (a.k.a. Mr. Baker) taking over the reins from Father Rapp, the Harmonists recognized investment opportunities. Buying into railroads and oil wells, the society infused the region’s burgeoning industries with early working capital. But, in the end, it was the Harmonists’ celibacy that sealed their fate. By 1905, they were no more.

Although many of the community’s holdings were sold to the American Bridge Company (that’s where Ambridge got its name), the Harmonists’ story, accomplishments, and ideals have been preserved in Old Economy Village. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took over the site in 1916, and today it’s maintained by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Encompassing six acres, this National Historic Landmark features 17 authentic Harmonist buildings (circa 1824-1830), gardens, and streets, along with more than 16,000 artifacts. Items relating to the Harmony Society, including photographs, lithographs, maps, drawings, periodicals, letters, and books have been moved from the Pennsylvania State Archives to Old Economy Village for examination by the public; research is by appointment only.

Guided tours take visitors through the life and times of the Harmonists. Visitors can see the Museum Building and Feast Hall where society members would gather for holidays and anniversaries; the Print Shop where the oldest flat-bed press in America still stands; the Community Kitchen; the Cabinet Shop; the Granary; the Wine Cellar; the relatively grand residence of George Rapp; and the more modest Baker house. The gardens, too, have been restored to their 1829 splendor. With tulips, dahlias, and fruit trees blooming, they reflect the Harmonists’ sensibilities. A trip to Old Economy would not be complete without a trip to the Visitor Center, which contains an orientation theater, orientation exhibit (“Preparing for Eternity: The Life of the Harmony Society”), changing exhibit spaces, a research library and archives, museum store, staff offices, and artifact storage space. Besides being educational, the building is energy efficient and historically accurate. It uses geothermal heating and cooling, but is constructed of brick and siding to replicate Harmonist architectural elements.

Programs, workshops, and festivals celebrating German heritage and traditions—the foundation of the Harmonist Society—take place throughout the year.

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