In 1985, the newly transformed University of Southern Indiana was changing more than its name. USI under the leadership of its first president, Dr. David Rice, stepped up to provide management of Historic New Harmony to become a "living laboratory" drawing the areas strong historic, social, science, and art traditions dating back to its founding with the Harmonists in 1814. Continuing the tradition of education and the arts, a few years later in 1988 USI began to program and produce plays at the New Harmony Theater. This allowed USI students to work with professional actors and gain important practical experience. RopeWalk Writers Retreat was soon to follow. This event attracted writers from Hollywood to New York and international professionals.
Today Historic New Harmony offers a variety of programs and opportunities for many levels of exploration. From historic buildings to modern architecture, from archeological sites to contemporary village living, from local artisans to international speakers. New Harmony's foundations were built on concepts of finding a better way to live and learn as a community, a living utopia.
New Harmony has always been ahead of its time and continues to be an example of how an intimate American community can still be vital in the 21st century. New Harmony’s history, architecture, historic buildings, gardens and nature trails attract residents and scholars that have similar values and want to work towards the community’s sustainability. These include University of Southern Indiana, Robert Lee Blaffer Foundation, Harmonie Associates, and New Harmony Business Associates, among many others. The work of Historic New Harmony not only enriches the lives of the people residing in New Harmony, but its impact reaches throughout Indiana, across the United States, and even internationally, to engage people in the quest for livable, sustainable communities.
The Harmonists were Lutheran Separatist from Wurttemberg in Germany. Initially they settled in “Harmony,” Pennsylvania and in 1814, they moved to Indiana were they established a new town called “neu Harmonie.” The Harmonists developed a simple, pietistic lifestyle based upon the early Christian Church. They turned over everything they owned to the Harmony Society when they became members. Everyone worked together for the good of the Society and received, in turn, what he or she needed to live simply and comfortably. Nevertheless, the community accumulated great wealth due to a keen sense of business and investments in agriculture and manufacturing. Because they expected Christ’s Second Coming to Earth at any moment, they adopted celibacy in 1807 in order to purify themselves for the Millennium – Christ’s 1,000-year reign on Earth. This millennial society built 180 buildings in the 10 years they resided in Indiana, and many are still standing today. They produced quality products including textiles, rope, barrels, tin ware, leather goods, candles, bricks and much more using the latest machinery and technology available. The Harmonists applied their shared work ethic to achieve uncommon economic success, but in 1824 moved back to Pennsylvania and built their third town called Economy.
Robert Owen, a Welsh-born industrialist and social reformer, and William Maclure, an educator and the Father of American Geology, purchased the town from Father Rapp in 1825. The second utopia was to be a new moral world based on equal education and equal social status. They brought the “Boatload of Knowledge” to New Harmony, navigating here with many scientists and educators including Entomologist and Conchologist Thomas Say. Years after Say’s death, his firefly became Indiana’s official state insect on March 23, 2018. Although their utopian vision eventually dissolved, the creative efforts of the Owen/Maclure period are still evident today.