Bethel Travel Guide: 13 reviews and 14 photos

Bethel was the original communal colony founded by followers of 'Dr' Wilhelm Keil. The colony was established in 1844 and consisted of many German-Americans who had known of or had been members of a communal group which had split off from the Harmonist Society located near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - the issue of celibacy being one of the major factors, this group not wishing to continue in that direction. The first winter was for Keil, his family and a few others, very hard, but slowly the colony took shape. More people arrived and the town grew. Unlike other communal communities, each family had their own home, instead of just a room. Celibacy was not an aspiration of either Dr Keil or his followers as it was in the Amanas, the Shakers and the followers of Eric Jansson at Bishop Hill, Illinois. The colony prospered under the nominal direction of Dr Keil, who had final word on all things spiritual and temporal. Agriculture and several other enterprises - including Golden Rule whiskey - supported the colony. By 1850, there were 476 people and over 650 by 155. Food was distributed from colony stores on Saturday and clothes were issued in Spring and Fall.

Several ex-colonists left the communal arrangements, but stayed in Bethel continuing to prosper. Keil found in this, the World impinging upon his Ideal, so he led about 75 other Bethel pioneers 2000 miles further west to Oregon, where he founded Aurora - see my Aurora pages for more on that subject. Eventually more Bethelites would join their brethren in the West, a large party of young males set out in 1862, due in part to avoid being drafted into the Union Army. Even from the far reaches of Oregon, Keil was able to hold both communities together, but with his death, in 1879, both communal groups disbanded, splitting assets among the members.

Bethel lasted for 35 years and there are over 30 original buildings left. Many people living in Bethel can claim heritage with the past colonists. To see both Bethel and Aurora is to become intimate with both the will of Wilhelm Keil and his 19th Century followers, all seeking a simpler life. Old grist mills and the Colony Church are long gone which is a shame - especially the church which featured a balcony encircling the steeple from which the colony's band would often play.

  • Intro Updated Oct 3, 2008
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Reviews (13)

Comments (7)

  • angiebabe's Profile Photo
    Nov 15, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    Hi Back safe and sound from your trip to Serbia with some stories to tell!? interesting houses here - dont think ive heardvof Charles Sharpe

  • karenincalifornia's Profile Photo
    Jun 30, 2008 at 9:18 AM

    A nice portrait of middle America - I'm glad there is a place like this where so many of the original buildings have been preserved.

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Aug 11, 2006 at 7:45 PM

    It is very interesting how these little separate religious colonies spring up here and there down through the ages! I had not even heard of this one until reading your very interesting page. Thanks for the insights!

  • Stephen-KarenConn's Profile Photo
    Jan 2, 2006 at 6:49 AM

    Fascinating and frightening at the same time. People who have the "absolute" truth scare me, although I once thought I had it myself. Maybe that could be one interpretation of what it means to "put away childish things."

  • Aug 2, 2005 at 2:17 PM

    In order to get the full range of this area, you should also visit the ecovillage, Dancing Rabbit, located about 40 miles north near Rutledge. I personally found this a good deal more entertaining, and a good deal less disturbing.

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Oct 19, 2004 at 9:08 AM

    Fascinating new page about a place I had never heard of before. That Main Street photo captures the atmosphere.

  • Jonathan_C's Profile Photo
    Oct 15, 2004 at 4:13 AM

    Ahhh, the buckle of the bible belt. I remember it well if not all too fondly. I'd love to see a home page travelogue that synthesizes all your experiences in utopian communities.


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