The Harmony Society
Old Time Tales of Warren County


The Harmony Society

In the year 1840 about two hundred people were living in and about the peaceful village of Tidioute. They were scattered from Grandin's at Gordon Run to Turner's Tavern, a mile and a half up the river where rafts-men and other travelers through the valley found hospitable entertainment. There were a few settlers around Magee Run, and a few more in Limestone. A great many of the houses were built of logs, chinked with clay. Very up to date families lived in homes made of modern sawed boards. There were plenty of deer in the forest and at certain seasons of the year the wild pigeons swarmed through the hills in such vast numbers the roar of their wings was like that of a dozen hailstorms. More than one home had strings of dried pigeon breasts hanging in the attic; they made wonderful potpies during the winter. Tidioute Run, McGee Run, Hickory Creek and a dozen smaller streams swarmed with speckled trout always ready to fight for the chance to bite at a baited hook.

A few proud homes had oil lamps, but not the kerosene lamps of today. They were lamps made to burn sperm oil, lard oil, or almost any oil that could be obtained. They were round cans holding a pint, with a perpendicular spout for the wick. There was no chimney and of course they smoked badly. Most of these sperm oil lamps were brought into Warren County from the east. They had the name of a Philadelphia firm stamped on them and they were painted red.

People possessing iron cookstoves that operated indoors were considered opulent. Some families had portable "Dutch Ovens" that stood in the back yard, a whole week's baking of bread could be accommodated in one of them. The neighborhood was perhaps above the average in the possession of books; there were quite a few families with black walnut bookcases containing classics. And what a wonderful opportunity they must have had for reading during the long, snowbound winter evenings when the river was frozen, the roads drifted over and the good pine knots blazed on the hearth. No wonder men loved their homes, and had such fine ones. By "home" please do not misconstrue that we mean "house". Some of the prominent inhabitants were, Samuel Grandin, merchant; Ben Hopewell; Seth Alger, tavern keeper who sold good rye whiskey at three cents a glass and would charge it if you liked ;--Seth also knew how to Unix that heart-warming and time-honored concoction Tom and Jerry, in which he used wild honey instead of sugar, making the delectable mixture still more delightful to the taste. Wm. Kinnear and sons, James, William, John and Ganley; Thomas Arters, and his two daughters, Mary and Rebecca; Samuel McGuire and his son, William; Thomas Mullen; Samuel Roup; P. P. Garret; George W. Scott; Samuel Culbertson, and Squire McGill, who tempered justice with mercy and administered his office with high credit.

During the forties there was an influx of settlers, men alive to the possibilities afforded by fine forests, in close proximity to a navigable stream. By this time the lumber trade, as a profitable business, was coming into its own. Land could no longer be obtained for little or nothing and the settlement of Tidioute began to form itself into an industrious lumbering village. Logs and lumber were hauled with oxen, things moved deliberately, the life of the community was still that of a peaceful farming neighborhood. No one saw anything prophetic in the oil that oozed from certain springs in the vicinity and came riding down in curling, iridescent smears on the surfaces of some nearby creeks that emptied into the Allegheny. Sometimes, when weather and wind were in a certain condition the very air smelled of oil, yet none suspected that this viscous fluid which gave such evident hints of its presence in the vicinity was, at the end of another twenty years, to cause such an upheaval in Tidioute.

While the picturesque little town of Tidioute was thus dreaming, working, building a little in its beautiful bend of the river, a society of good people, destined to play an interesting part in the development of the town and vicinity, was busy and prospering at Economy, eighteen miles below Pittsburgh, on the Ohio River. Since the Economites, as they have been most commonly known, formed such an unusual unit in Warren County, a bit of their earlier history is not out of place.

The Economy Society

The Harmony Society, or Economites as they were called when they established themselves at Tidioute, was founded about the year 1800 by George Rapp, and a colony of immigrants from Wurtemburg, numbering over one hundred families. They belonged to a certain class of people in Germany, who, becoming dissatisfied with the religious principles as set forth by the Lutheran church, segregated themselves and were given the term of Pietists as a reproach, the accusing ones being too stupid to know they were paying the segregated ones the highest compliment possible.

The Economites stood for a more diligent private study of the Scriptures and for the inspiration gained from social conference and prayer. Two men arose among them who were natural leaders. They were Michael Hahn and George Rapp.

After various persecutions, and imprisonments at the hands of their fellow countrymen, and having made an ineffectual plea for redress to their own government, they determined to emigrate. They were not the first who had made this determination, America offered religious freedom. In the year 1803 George Rapp visited this country in search of a location suitable for a colony. He purchased a large tract of land near Zelienople, in Butler County, Pennsylvania. In the autumn of the ensuing year three ship loads of colonists arrived.

Before leaving Germany the Economites had embraced some peculiar views of religion and social economy. They had generally adopted the millenarian theory of the personal and pre-millenarian advent of Christ, which they regarded as near at hand. They were disposed to the communistic belief that all things should be owned in common. Soon after their settlement in this country marriage was prohibited among the colony. Some of the young men objected that this was carrying economy too far. But celibacy was strictly adhered to by members of the society for over fifty years.

In 1825 the Economites made a purchase of land in Beaver County. They built a steamboat and laid out the town of Economy, houses with no front doors, to discourage worldliness. Long years later Economy was to be famous for its band, conducted by John Duss. Many residents of Warren County heard Duss' Band.

The Economites sometimes loaned money, on good security. They loaned some to Wm. Davidson on excellent security, he had 8,000 acres of fine timber in Limestone Township, Warren County. When Davidson couldn't meet his obligations the Economites, much as they regretted it, were compelled to foreclose the mortgage, taking possession of the tract. Thus it happened the Economites got the timber and Warren County got the Economites.

During the fifties the Economites sent representatives to look over their land in Warren County. They took back a report so good that the society immediately built a large sawmill on the headwaters of East Hickory creek. Their methods would not be considered economical today, they built five miles of plank road using clear pine for the job. It was something like the pioneer settler up by Lottsville who had a pig pen and corn crib built of solid black walnut boards.

Warren County had a pleasant little surprise for the Economites. When they had taken the timber off the large tract and rafted it down the Allegheny and Ohio to their mills at Economy, oil in abundant quantity was struck on their land. A resident of Tidioute who is as well informed on the situation as anyone living today, says the Economites took at least six million dollars in oil out of the hills across the river.

Some of the splendid Economite stock is intermingled with that of Warren County families not identified with the order today. The rules concerning celibacy were suspended in some cases. And the more of the honest, hard working, idealistic strain, of the Harmony Society, lingers in the county, the better it is for the community.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 93-97: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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