"Old Economy--The Harmonists Return to Pennsylvania" Ambridge by VeronicaG

Ambridge Travel Guide: 26 reviews and 54 photos

Early Pennsylvania Settlement

Ambridge, Pennsylvania was once a thriving town dominated by American Bridge, a steel mill whose contribution to industry in the Pittsburgh area was vital.

After purchasing the town from the Harmonists and incorporating it in 1905, the steel company renamed the town after itself. When Pittsburgh's steel industry took a down turn, so did the town. Today many storefronts remain empty and businesses have closed. However, there is a reason for visiting...the historic village of Old Economy.

Economy was settled in 1785 by a religious group whose roots were established in Germany. Their leader, Johannes Georg Rapp, led his group to an area about 28 miles north of Pittsburgh which they named Harmony. After ten years, they sold their property to the Mennonites and moved to Indiana to a place referred to as New Harmony.

Indiana did not prove friendly to the Harmonists. Some think it is because the Society monopolized trade there. After ten years in this location, they journeyed back to Pennsylvania, settling along the Ohio River outside of Pittsburgh to an area they named Economy--as in divine economy.

The Society believed that the Milennium was coming soon, so in order to be ready they wanted to establish a thriving community to welcome this event.

George Rapp grew up in Wurttemberg, Germany. When in his 20's he became ill, spending much of his recuperation reading his Bible. During this time he experienced a 'spiritual awakening' and believed that he was called to preach.

He began holding services, drawing many followers from the Lutheran Church. This came to the attention of the Lutheran hierarchy and even led to his arrest. Although he experienced only occasional 'religious persecution' Rapp decided to move to America.

He married, Christina Benzinger in 1783, later fathering a son, Johannes and a daughter, Rosina. After Johannes died, he adopted Frederick Reichert, who was in his 20's at the time.

The Harmonists flourished financially wherever they settled and made important contributions to a community in regard to agriculture, silk making, producing textiles from wool and cotton and wine making.

When Economy's settlers died off, the Society was disbanded around 1904-05 and American Bridge bought up much of their land.

Becky, our costumed guide, brought a realistic element to our tour and added so much to our education on the old Harmonist way of life.

Note: I depended on information given by our guide, as well as, that coming from a terrific booklet purchased at the gift shop titled, Old Economy Village--Pennsylvania Trail of History Guide by Daniel B. Reibel published by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission as I constructed this page.

Wine Producers

This grape vine remains from the Harmonists wine producing efforts

The Garden in Late Fall

  • Last visit to Ambridge: Nov 2008
  • Intro Updated Nov 22, 2008
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Reviews (17)

Comments (8)

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Mar 16, 2009 at 10:09 PM

    What a lovely page about an important part in US history! I often ask myself if we cannot learn from our forefathers, like baking bread again in a community oven. Haha, I love that money storage :-)

  • kyoub's Profile Photo
    Dec 18, 2008 at 12:47 PM

    A very interesting look back in time. It sounds like a very enjoyable tour.

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Dec 17, 2008 at 10:50 AM

    A fascinating look at Old Economy Village. Considering how important the American Bridge Company was to Ambridge (for maybe eight decades?), the Harmonists seem to have left a more lasting impression -- or are there also tours of disused steel mills?

  • Dabs's Profile Photo
    Dec 3, 2008 at 2:09 PM

    Imagine keeping a half million dollars in your basement! Thanks for the look at Ambridge :-)

  • TheWanderingCamel's Profile Photo
    Nov 30, 2008 at 2:53 PM

    Fascinating Veronica. I too love these unique old communities. Now I have another place to add to the list of "must sees" when I get back to the States. Thanks for the tour. leyle

  • starship's Profile Photo
    Nov 26, 2008 at 5:52 AM

    Nice page, Veronica! The history and life style of the former inhabitants was so interesting. I'm sure that this little town really appreciates having visitors at this time of year!

  • deecat's Profile Photo
    Nov 22, 2008 at 10:25 AM

    Terrific pages, Veronica. It reminds me of a similar village I visited in Ohio. Enjoyed your fine restaurant tip, info about Harmonists, the Rapp house, the Feast Hall, and that wonderful Ornamental Garden. Excellent.

  • Pawtuxet's Profile Photo
    Nov 22, 2008 at 7:14 AM

    Wonderful page, Veronica. You know how I love these villages. Much like other religious orders...many from Germany. Noticed the FLOOR CLOTH in the kitchen. I had one made for my house too. Love them. Thanks for the mini trip.


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