We’re on a little extended weekend getaway in New Harmony, Indiana.
It’s a tiny town in southwest Indiana that made two attempts at Utopia. One of those lasted ten years (1814-1825) and became a very thriving, prosperous town. In fact, they received “unheard of economic success” and the town was known as the “wonder of the west.” And still they abandoned the idea and moved back to Pennsylvania after just ten years.
In 1825, they sold the town to the Robert Owen, a wealthy Welsh-born philosopher whose plan was to bring over a “boatload of knowledge,” loading up a boat with world-renowned scientists and educators with the goal—again—to make this place a perfect society.
The Owenites, just like the Harmonists before them, made significant contributions to American society. But this time, the endeavor lasted two years.
This is just a snapshot of the story of this town, and I find it fascinating.
Today, the town is quaint. Quiet. And rich with life.
This place has embraced whimsy and wonder. The city passed an ordinance that allows golf carts in the streets. And bicycles are everywhere. There are benches throughout the town where you can just stop and sit and take it all in.
The colors all around are so vibrant, and the people leave the trees in their yards, so there is so much shade. And so much green.
Everywhere you look, there are remnants of the heart of the people who settled and dreamed here. And the layout of the town, the landscaping, the buildings, the art… it’s all a reflection of the deep-rooted spiritual and intellectual foundation that built this place from the beginning.
There is a roofless church.
Jane Owen (whose husband Kenneth was a descendant of the Owen family) set to renovate the town in the 1950s. She is credited for bringing the culture to life through art and architecture. Many of those on the “boatload of knowledge” stayed behind, so the town is known for its intellectualism and art. Today’s New Harmony is a village rich with art, architecture, theatre, and horticulture.
We are here with our boys, and I’m struck by the stillness.
Knox and Tobin seem captivated, too, as our wild and crazy family is filled up with the same tranquility all around us.
We sit under the canopy of trees in the roofless church, each at our own bench, having quiet conversations about life—Tobin digging his toes into the smooth rocks that cover the floor.
We’re breathing in each other, connecting to earth and sky and this moment.
We all walk the labyrinth together, in different spots, and I can hear our footsteps crunch on the gravel. The birds chirp in the air. Tobin making sounds every once in a while. Knox giggling at a “secret passage” he’s found.
We take the golf cart around Main Street, watching vehicles mixed with golf carts. We take the cart winding around the river paths and stop for a picnic, gazing out at the water trying to decide if that huge bullfrog is a snake or a turtle and wondering if the swans will attack.
But they don’t.
And I feel like everything in this place is a representation of the Good. Like it’s all one big message—the buildings, the landscape, the layout of the town. It’s all whispering to us, “We tried perfect. It doesn’t work. This. This moment right here… this is where the life is.”
I’m not sure what it was like when the Harmonists and the Owenites abandoned their vision of Utopia. Were they frustrated? Angry? Disappointed?
But walking these quiet streets, it’s as if once “perfect” was thrown out the window, everything exhaled. And Good took over.
This town seems to have found the secret to fullness of life.
And it’s Tob.