The Communistic Societies of the United States, by Charles Nordhoff, , at sacred-texts.com
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TRAVELING from Cleveland to Pittsburgh by rail, you strike the Ohio River at Wellsville; and the railroad runs thence, for forty-eight miles, to Pittsburgh, along the river bank, and through the edge of a country rich in coal, oil, potters' clay, limestone, and iron, and supporting a number of important manufactures.
To a traveler in search of the Rappist or Harmony settlement at Economy, the names of the towns along here seem to tell of the overshadowing influence of these communists; for, passing Liverpool, you come to Freedom, Jethro (whose houses are both heated and lighted with gas from a natural spring near by), Industry, and Beaver; you smile at the sign of the "Golden Rule Distillery;" and you wonder at the broken fences, unpainted houses, and tangled and weed-covered grounds, and that general air of dilapidation which curses a country producing petroleum and bituminous coal.
Presently, however, you strike into what is evidently a large and well-kept estate: high and solid fences; fields without weeds, and with clean culture or smooth and rich grass; and if you ask the conductor, he will tell you that for some miles here the land is owned by the "Economites;" and that the town or village of Economy lies among these neatly kept fields, but out of sight of the railroad on the top of the steep bluff.
Economy has, in truth, one of the loveliest situations on the Ohio River. It stands in the midst of a rich plain, with swelling
hills behind, protecting it from cold winds in winter; a magnificent reach of the river in view below; and tall hills on the opposite shore to give a picturesque outlook. The town begins on the edge of the bluff; and under the shade-trees planted there benches are arranged, where doubtless the Harmonists take their comfort on summer evenings, in view of the river below them and of the village on the opposite shore. Streets proceed at right-angles with the river's course; and each street is lined with neat frame or brick houses, surrounding a square in such a manner that within each household has a sufficient garden. The broad streets have neat foot-pavements of brick; the houses, substantially built but unpretentious, are beautified by a singular arrangement of grape-vines, which are trained to espaliers fixed to cover the space between the top of the lower and the bottom of the upper windows. This manner of training vines gives the town quite a peculiar look, as though the houses had been crowned with green.
As you walk through the silent streets, and pass the large Assembly Hall, the church, and the hotel, it will occur to you that these people had, when they founded their place, the advantage of a sensible architect, for, while there is not the least pretense, all the building is singularly solid and honest; and in the larger houses the roof-lines have been broken and managed with considerable skill, so as to produce a very pleasing and satisfactory effect. Moreover, the color of the bricks used in building has chanced to be deep and good, which is no slight advantage to the place.
Neatness and a Sunday quiet are the prevailing characteristics of Economy. Once it was a busy place, for it had cotton, silk, and woolen factories, a brewery, and other industries; but the most important of these have now ceased; and as you walk along the quiet, shady streets, you meet only occasionally some stout, little old man, in a short light-blue jacket and a tall and very broad-brimmed hat, looking amazingly
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CHURCH AT ECONOMY.
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A STREET VIEW IN ECONOMY.
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FATHER RAPP'S HOUSE—ECONOMY.
like Hendrick Hudson's men in the play of Rip Van Winkle; or some comfortable-looking dame, in Norman cap and stuff gown; whose polite "good-day" to you, in German or English as it may happen, is not unmixed with surprise at sight of a strange face; for, as you will presently discover at the hotel, visitors are not nowadays frequent in Economy.
The hotel is one of the largest houses in the place; it is of two stories, with spacious bed-chambers, high ceilings, roomy fire-places, large halls, and a really fine dining-room, all scrupulously clean. It was once, before the days of railroads, a favorite stopping-place on one of the main stage routes out of Pittsburgh; in the well-built stable and barns opposite there was room for twenty or thirty horses; the dining-room would seat a hundred people; and here during many years was a favorite winter as well as summer resort for Pittsburghers, and an important source of income to the Economists.
When I for the first time entered the sitting-room on a chilly December morning, the venerable but active landlord was dusting chairs and tables, and looked up in some amazement at the intrusion of a traveler. "I can stay here, I suppose," said I, by way of introduction; and was answered: "That depends upon how long you want to stay. We don't take people to board here." My assurance that I meant to remain but two or three days, and that I had been recommended by Mr. Henrici, the head of the society, secured me a room; and the warning, as I went out for a walk, that I must be in by half-past eleven, promptly, to dine; and by half-past four for supper, because other people had to eat after me, and ought not to be kept waiting by reason of my carelessness. "For which reason," added the landlord, "it would be well for you to come in and be at hand a quarter of an hour before the times I have mentioned." When I had dined and supped and slept, I saw what a loss to Pittsburghers was the closing of the Economy hotel; for the Harmonists live well, and are
substantial eaters in their German fashion. Nor was any ceremony omitted because of the fewness of guests; and old Joseph, the butler and head-waiter, who, as he told me, came to serve here fifty years ago, and is now seventy-eight years old, attended upon my meals arrayed in a scrupulously white apron, ordered the lass who was his subordinate, and occasionally condescended to laugh at my jokes, as befitted his place, with as much precision and dignity as when, thirty or forty years ago, he used to serve a houseful of hungry travelers.
Later in the afternoon I discovered the meaning of my landlord's warnings as to punctuality, as well as the real use of the "Economy Hotel." As I sat before the fire in my own room after supper, I heard the door-bell ring with a frequency as though an uncommon number of travelers were applying for lodgings; and going down into the sitting-room about seven o'clock, I discovered there an extraordinary collection of persons ranged around the fire, and toasting their more or less dilapidated boots. These were men in all degrees of raggedness; men with one eye, or lame, or crippled—tramps, in fact, beggars for supper and a night's lodging. They sat there to the number of twenty, half naked many of them, and not a bit ashamed; with carpet-bags or without; with clean or dirty faces and clothes as it might happen; but all hungry, as I presently saw, when a table was drawn out, about which they gathered, giving their names to be taken down on a register, while to them came a Harmonist brother with a huge tray full of tins filled with coffee, and another with a still bigger tray of bread.
Thereupon these wanderers fell to, and having eaten as much bread and coffee as they could hold, they were consigned to a house a few doors away, peeping in at whose windows by and by, I saw a large, cheerful coal fire, and beds for the whole company.
"You see, after you have eaten, the table must be cleared, and then we eat; and then come these people, who have also to be fed, so that, unless we hurry, the women are belated with their work," explained the landlord of this curious inn to me.
"Is this, then, a constant occurrence?" I asked in some amazement; and was told that they feed here daily from fifteen to twenty-five such tramps, asking no questions, except that the person shall not have been a regular beggar from the society. A constant provision of coffee and bread is made for them, and the house set apart for their lodging has bed accommodations for twenty men. They are expected to wash at the stable next morning, and thereupon receive a breakfast of bread, meat, and coffee, and are suffered to go on their way. Occasionally the very destitute, if they seem to be deserving, receive also clothing.
"But are you not often imposed upon?" I asked.
"Yes, probably; but it is better to give to a dozen worthless ones than to refuse one deserving man the cup and loaf which we give," was the reply.
The tramps themselves took this benevolence apparently as a matter of course. They were quiet enough; some of them looked like decent men out of work, as indeed all professed to be going somewhere in search of employment. But many of them had the air of confirmed loafers, and some I should not have liked to meet alone on the road after dark.
Economy is the home of the "Harmony Society," better known to the outside world as the followers of Rapp. It is a town of about one hundred and twenty houses, very regularly built, well-drained, and paved; it has water led from a reservoir in the hills, and flowing into troughs conveniently placed in every street; abundant shade-trees; a church, an assembly hall, a store which supplies also to some extent the neighboring country; different factories, and a number of conveniences which villages of its size are too often without. Moreover, it
contains a pleasant pleasure-garden, and is surrounded by fine, productive orchards and by well-tilled fields.
At present Economy is inhabited by all that remain of the society which was founded by George Rapp in 1805. These number one hundred and ten persons, most of whom are aged, and none, I think, under forty. Besides these, who are the owners of the place and of much property elsewhere, there are twenty-five or thirty children of various ages, adopted by the society and apprenticed to it, and an equal number living there with parents who are hired laborers; of these hired laborers, men and women, there are about one hundred. The whole population is German; and German is the language one commonly hears, and in which on Sunday worship is carried on. Nevertheless all the people speak English also.
The Harmonists themselves are sturdy, healthy-looking men and women, most of them gray haired; with an air of vigorous independence; conspicuously kind and polite; well-fed and well-preserved. As I examined their faces on Sunday in church, they struck me as a remarkably healthy and well-satisfied collection of old men and women; by no means dull, and very decidedly masters of their lives. Their working dress has for its peculiarity the roundabout or jacket I have before mentioned; on Sunday they wear long coats. The women look very well indeed in their Norman caps; and their dress, wholesome and sensible, is not in any way odd or inappropriate. Indeed, when Miss Rapp, the granddaughter of the founder of the society, walked briskly into church on Sunday, her bright, kindly face was so well set off by the cap she wore that she seemed quite an admirable object to me; and I thought no head-dress in the world could so well become an elderly lady.