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Homes and gardens on display in Harmony

Evelyn Aronsohn, a volunteer with Historic Harmony, describes how sausage was made by the Harmonists on the rudimentary sausage maker in one of the eight properties on the Historic Harmony House & Garden Tour on Saturday. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle

HARMONY — The borough was hopping on Saturday, June 15, as two events played out in unison in the historic borough.

The main event was the Historic Harmony House & Garden Tour, where six properties within walking distance from the Harmony Museum and two within a short drive were available for perusal.

The historic element of the borough enhanced the tour, as many of the properties were part of the Harmonist Society, a German group of Christians who built and lived in the borough from 1804 to 1814.

One such stop on the tour was the brick Wagner-Bentle House just across the rear parking lot from the Harmony Museum.

Evelyn Aronsohn, a volunteer with Historic Harmony, served as a guide inside the house as tourists moved through the sitting room/woman’s bedroom and the kitchen.

She explained the woman would sleep downstairs and her husband upstairs because the Harmonists adopted celibacy to keep themselves pure for the second coming of Christ, which they were convinced would happen any day.

The woman also would keep the fireplace stoked during cold winter nights.

Aronsohn also pointed out the original grout in the fireplace, in which straw can still be seen. She also explained a rudimentary sausage-making machine, a cone of sugar that was scraped to sweeten a dish, and a historic 10-plate wood stove to those who came through the house.

In the back of the house, Sue Franz and Missy Clark worked the bake oven demonstration.

The women, who were dressed in period costumes, baked sourdough bread, Irish soda bread and scones in the outdoor brick oven, and churned butter to slather on a small sample those on the tour could enjoy.

Clark explained that Harmonist women brought their bread dough to the town oven, where a baker would bake it once per week.

Some women put an original design in the top of their dough so it could be easily identified when finished.

Clark also made “stuffed pumpkins” for the event.

“It’s acorn squash as we know it now, but back then, any squash was (called) pumpkin,” she said.

She made the stuffing from smoked pork, apples, onions, maple syrup and spices.

Once the butter was churned, the water removed and salt added, Franz placed it in a large stone cooling trough.

Clark said those on the tour seemed to enjoy the bake oven demonstration.

“The biggest reaction we get is ‘Oh my gosh, that is a lot of work,’ and my response is ‘It’s a lot of work listening to hungry children crying,’” she said.

Another Harmonist house on the tour was the Mueller house on Wood Street, which has been owned by Richard and Susan Webb for the past eight years.

Two rooms in the first floor of the home, which was built in 1810, have been restored to their original look.

Susan Webb, who coordinated the entire Harmony House and Garden Tour, led brief tours of the house, giving information on Johan Christophe Mueller, who was the town’s physician and musician.

She told those on the tour that the Harmonist Society was the wealthiest communal society in the United States, thanks to their fine Merino woolen products and upscale wine.

“We want to share the history of our community,” Webb said.

She said the four pillars of history in Harmony are the Harmonist Society, the French and Indian War, architecture, and the Mennonites who purchased the town from the Harmonists when they left for what was then the Indiana Territory.

Webb said she thinks the house tour, which was last held in 2022, is so popular because of Historic Harmony’s dedication to the town’s history.

“We’re friendly, we preserve the Harmonist history, and we work hard, as a board, to make sure people come away with an understanding of our past and its richness,” she said.

Many smiles could be seen on the faces of those going between houses clutching their programs.

Wendy Fusan, of Indiana Township, Allegheny County, enjoyed her first Historic Harmony House & Garden Tour on Saturday.

“I was here at Christmas, and I kept saying I’d really like to go back to Harmony,” she said. “It would be such a nice town to walk through.”

She said her favorite part of the tour was the garden at the quaint 1807 Schreiber House.

“His garden was unbelievable,” Fusan said.

She was fascinated to learn that the Harmonists kept themselves going for 100 years despite celibacy by adopting orphans and widows until they finally died out in 1905.

“To think they were so convinced of the second coming of Christ,” Fusan said.

She also marveled at the straw insulation between the floor joists in another home.

“That was ingenious,” Fusan said. “Everything is so well-preserved. It shows how proud Harmony is of its history.”

Judy Hillner, of Big Timber, Mont., took the home tour while visiting her sister, who lives in Connoquenessing.

“She thought this would be a fun event,” Hillner said. “I just love history.”

She also enjoyed learning that Native Americans would bend young trees to mark locations, so the woods could be navigated. Once larger, the horizontal trunk of the bent tree could be used to sit in while hunting.

Hillner also was impressed at the natural herbs and spices used in cooking in Harmony.

“I think natural is the way to go,” she said.

The Harmony Fiber Festival also was held on Saturday in the historic Ziegler Barn, where demonstrations of the Harmonist and Mennonite methods of creating fabric were shown.

Missy Clark cuts fresh-baked sourdough bread she made in the bake oven demonstration Saturday during the Historic Harmony House & Garden Tour. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle
Sue Frantz, left, and Missy Clark prepare fresh butter after it was churned by Frantz at the bake oven demonstration Saturday during the Historic Harmony House & Garden Tour. Paula Grubbs/Butler Eagle

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