Monday, March 30, 2015

New Harmony—a small southwestern Indiana town first named Harmonie—considered the birthplace of North American geology

Which small town can say of itself that it is today a scientific center of national significance?  If you can't find a current one, what about one in the past—let's say, in the early nineteenth century. Simon Winchester introduces us to such a community:  New Harmony, now a historic town on the Wabash River in Posey County, Indiana, which was founded in 1814 by a religious group of immigrants from Germany. Beginning as an utopian community and sold to a wealthy industrialist and idealist from Scotland in 1825, this tiny, spiritually minded town—a “Community of Equality”—soon attracted intellectuals, philosophers and naturalists [1-4].

New Harmony's original name is Harmonie, the German-spelled word for harmony. Winchester describes its early development [1]:

The town, first simply named Harmonie, was settled initially by early-nineteenth-century Germans, men and women fleeing to America much as the Pilgrim Fathers had fled two centuries before, to escape religious restrictions back home. Their piety and hard work paid off quickly, and they eventually moved on to larger quarters, selling their tiny settlement to another idealist adventurer, the campaigning Welsh socialist Robert Owen. He, flushed with the success of a millworkers' commune that he had organized outside Edinburgh, planned to establish a utopian beachhead in America, based on socialist ideals. He renamed the former German village New Harmony; and once he had settled during the winter of 1825, he invited like-minded idealists to join him.  

What led to New Harmony's scientific distinction?
Among its inhabitants were no fewer than seven geologists of later fame. Geology played an important role in exploring the American West and in unifying the States. According to Winchester, New Harmony was the place where this realization of geology's importance was born. It is the birthplace of North American geology.

Keywords: geography, history, place name, European immigrants, European American settlement, socialists.

References and more to explore
[1] Simon Winchester: The Men Who United The States. First Harper Perennial edition published 2014.
[2] Country Homes of America: City Data for New Harmony, Indiana [].
[3] Historic New Harmony Newsletter: New Harmony a Magnet for Geologists Past and Present. Fall 2007 [].
[4] Indiana State Museum: Historic New Harmony [].

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