new harmony

The Sunday of my weekend in Evansville was perhaps the busiest of my days there. After waking up at nearly noon, I found my friend on the patio outside the kitchen, coffee mug and cigarette in hand.

"Why am I waking up at 11:00?" I asked sleepily and accusatively, closing the kitchen door behind me.

"Oh, you know, I figured you could use the sleep," he said, taking a swig of coffee.

Inwardly, I thanked him, thinking FROM ONE INSOMNIAC TO ANOTHER YES YES YES I DID. Outwardly, I teased him. "Perhaps." I hopped up and into one of the chairs. "But that also cuts into the HEY, I AM HERE LET'S HAVE FUN time, too."

Ty chuckled, shook his head with airy resonations. "Well, have you ever been to New Harmony?"

My brows furrowed. "No," I squeaked in high-pitched sarcasm.

Ty laughed again, unfazed by my response. "Well," he tried again, unfolding his hand from his chin, "I was thinking that we could go to New Harmony and eat there and then wander around a bit."

I blinked a few times, acted unamused and uninterested. Gave him the opportunity to air pretension.

He took it. "You know," he said, bobbing his head and shoulders in mock impatience. "New Harmony. Go walk around. Live it. See it. Tour the failed commune of southern Indiana." The angle of his head paralleled that of his outstretched palm.

I began to laugh, my face in my palms. Ty continued breaking down what history he knew of the small town. I shook my head out of hands, holding one of them up. "Ty! We'll go. WE'LL GO," I laughed.

Since I had never heard of New Harmony before my weekend getaway, Ty (and, later, Wikipedia) would inform me of the town's history. As the historical marker toward the center of town says, New Harmony is the location of "two attempts at communal living: The Harmonists under Reverend George Rapp, 1814-1825, and the Owenites under philanthropist Robert Owen, 1825-1826. New Harmony remained an important cultural center for many years thereafter."

Today, New Harmony (which is the same size as my hometown, at about 1,000 residents) still resonates bits and pieces of its failed utopias. There are no commercial businesses--no fast food restaurants, no chains. Of all the businesses in town, there is only one bank and one gas station that are not locally owned. Ty informed me that the locals are very exclusive, and that cash--rather than check or credit--is practically the only form of payment accepted.

The town itself is built along the Wabash River and is very picturesque; I regret not taking more photos of the walls, the fences, the original wooden buildings, the brick homes with wrap-around porches. It still looked ideal, really, and it was almost fantastical, given that the town's resort/inn/hotel guests zoomed around the borough in golf carts.

You could sense that the community was entirely close-knit, forever influenced by both nature and the Owen descendants. I was fascinated by it, and--rather than keep my eye behind a lens--preferred to take in what old-world charm I could. The whole town, especially that around said resort/inn/hotel was very lush, and the only building that did not resemble any other was the visitors center, a progressively modern building.

We ate lunch at a Route 66-themed cafe, one decorated with hubcaps, a jukebox, 1950s memorabilia. A young girl, seven or eight, perhaps, took our order. I told Ty that she reminded me a little of myself; when I had been her age, my mother also managed a restaurant.

"She let me do the orders, the drinks," I said. "That's also how I learned to make change."

After lunch, we wandered over to the Working Men's Institute, which is part library, part museum. It was established in 1838 by William McClure, who came to New Harmony in 1826 (during the Owen utopian experiment). McClure said the institute "should be solely and only applied to the diffusion of useful knowledge by mutual instruction amongst the producing classes who labor with their hands, and gain their bread by the sweat of their brow." (In other words, the Institute was an example of self-education for laborers.) It was also held in various areas of the town until 1894, when the current building (seen in the first photo of this post) was built.

The library itself was quite small, and taking up only half of the downstairs. The other half housed archives (and the labeling of said archives intrigued me, a typography nerd).

Upstairs, the museum housed commissioned copies of 19th-century Italian art, as well as New Harmony artifacts. There was also a great deal of natural history items, including a prized freshwater mussel collection. Ty and I repeatedly stared at the bird skulls, however, as well as the fish heads and preserved frogs. The most morbid of the displays (and yet the most interesting) were the complete horse skeleton of "Old Fly" and the taxidermied Siamese calves.

One of the last things we visited in New Harmony was the Roofless Church. It was commissioned by Jane Owen and designed by Philip Johnson, the same architect who, among many other works, designed the Seagram Building (New York City) and the Crystal Cathedral. According to this article, "Johnson and Owen envisioned a church where only the roof large enough to encompass a world of worshippers was the sky." The mushroom-like structure is the centerpiece of the courtyard, which is surrounded by brick walls. The grass was very green, and a small garden (with some religious avant-garde art) humbles one corner. Again--like most of New Harmony--the importance and dependence upon nature is prominent. Even the "balcony," the one with several tall columns, overlooks the corn, the trees, the river behind them.

Near the garden, there was a fountain, a small one with tossed coins and well wishes. I read the inscription, dipped my fingers in the water. Cool. Smooth.

I watched as Ty fished a penny from his pocket, dropped it accidentally. The quiet ting of the fallen coin was the only sound in the courtyard; we were alone. He picked it up, paused, casually flung it into the flowing water. It floated to the bottom, shiny, reflective of both water and wishes. I looked at it, then at Ty. Again, his hand dug, rattled currency. Again, a penny; this time, for me.

I rubbed it a few times between my thumb and forefinger, contemplative. It could've been a minute, it could've been a second--I did not want to keep Ty waiting. I looked at the quarters and the nickels, the thoughts worth more than my own. In one breathless thought, I flicked my penny into the pool.

Wisdom, wisdom, wisdom.


  1. Sounds like an interesting place! I love discovering little towns with rich, unexpected history. And your photos are awesome, as always! :)


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