I visited a handful of historical sites during my mid-July trip to Beaver County in western Pennsylvania. My favorites are Old Economy Village and Greersburg Academy.
Old Economy Village is a national historic landmark which tells the story of the Harmony Society, a successful religious communal group in the 19th century.
The original village was called Economy. The historic site is now within the borough of Ambridge, named after the American Bridge Co. which had a huge manufacturing plant there.
The Harmony Society was a Christian theosophy and pietist society founded in Iptingen, Germany, in 1785. Members came to the United States in 1805 and established Harmony Village in Butler County, Pa., as well as towns called Economy and Harmony in Indiana.
I visited Harmony, Pa. last summer during a trip to Butler County. That site and the one in Indiana were settled prior to Economy’s founding in 1824. The society lasted until about 1905.
George Rapp founded the group, and he lived in the main house in Economy, while his son Frederick Rapp lived in an attached house. Both of the brick structures are accessible inside the fence of Old Economy Village, and showcase some beautiful furnishings.
The grounds also boast several other original buildings — the large Feast Hall-Museum, store and post office, bake oven, community kitchen, cabinet and blacksmith shops, granary, warehouse and mechanics building-wine cellar.
The Feast Hall-Museum is interesting. Measuring 100 by 52 feet, communal feasts took place on the second floor, while the first floor housed one of the nation’s first natural history museums from 1827 to the 1840s.
Items pertaining to nature, other artifacts, a painting room, school room, music room and Dr. Muller’s office are on the Feast Hall’s first floor today.
The second floor was the location of the society’s love feasts, which took place in honor of special occasions. The hall could accommodate 800 people. Men and women sat on separate sides, and the meals were prepared in the community kitchen next door.
A carriage house is a 1960s reconstruction. Also on the grounds are the George Rapp and Baker gardens and a section of the original cobblestone street.
The visitor center, which houses exhibits, a gift shop and a small theater where an orientation film is shown, is a couple blocks down the street from the main grounds.
Greersburg Academy at Darlington is one of a complex of museums operated by the Little Beaver Historical Society. None of the buildings were open when I visited, but a society member who was working there allowed me in to view Greersburg Academy items.
The two-story stone structure was built in 1802 as a prep school for men entering the ministry, and later became a classical academy. It is the oldest standing public building in the county.
Famous people who attended the academy were William McGuffey of McGuffey Readers fame and abolitionist John Brown. In 1882, it became a railroad depot.
The building has a number of rooms housing Native American artifacts, antique pianos and furniture, pottery, Underground Railroad history, glass and old books. A high-back bed made of burled walnut and an 1825 grandfather’s clock are among gems there.
The Little Beaver Museum is in a two-story brick former school building built in 1883. Closed as a school in 1957, it houses artifacts from surrounding townships, a military display and local church and school histories.
A log cabin originally from Frederickstown, Ohio is beside the brick museum and features a working stone fireplace and chimney. Demonstrations of traditional cloth arts, including wool dying and spinning, are presented.
A building behind the museum contains numerous artifacts from the Golden Age of Industry (1800 to 1983), as well as farming. It features steam and fuel driven engines, industrial machines and a forge and foundry with demonstrations of blacksmithing and foundry techniques.
AIR, OTHER MUSEUMS
Beaver County Airport is the site of the Air Heritage Museum & Aircraft Restoration Facility. It houses World War II and Vietnam era military aircraft and artifacts, including C-123 and C-47D transport planes and a T-28C Trojan trainer aircraft. The C-123 is flyable.
Near the CSX and Norfork Southern main lines in Beaver is the Beaver Area Heritage Museum. Opened in 1998, it houses historical items and old photos in a 100-year-old former railroad freight house.
A dollhouse collection was a special exhibit on display when I visited. Beaver’s restored former train depot is next door, and now serves as a community center. Visitors can watch several trains a day pass by the site.
An 1800s-style log house and a children’s playhouse stand beside the museum. It was opened in 2002 and is reconstructed of timbers found in an old log building in Beaver that may have been salvaged from Fort McIntosh.
The site of Fort McIntosh is just a few blocks from the Beaver Area Heritage Museum. It was was constructed in 1778, named in honor of Gen. Lachlan McIntosh and abandoned in 1788.
After the Revolutionary War, the fort was the home of the First American Regiment, the oldest active unit in the United States Army. The outline of part of the fort is visible, and informational panels tell its story. A cannon sets in front of a stone monument.
One site in Beaver County which I didn’t get to visit is South Side HIstorical Village. It features a restored 1874 one-room schoolhouse, blacksmith shop with demonstrations, 1800s log cabin, large brick bread oven, general store, 1858 bank barn, 1800s doctor’s office and 1920s furnished kitchen.
I’d like to visit the village if I ever get back over that way. I’d also like to visit the Vicary Mansion in Freedom, just north of Ambridge. It was built in 1826 by sea captain William Vicary and is home to the Beaver County Historical Research and Landmarks Foundation.
Reporter Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400 Ext. 4189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.