Have you ever walked through utopia? Or been to a place so quiet and peaceful that you hear sound rather than noise? Or been somewhere that offers a place for contemplation on almost every turn you make? My dog Petey and I found all of this and more when we spent a morning wandering around New Harmony, Indiana.
New Harmony is located in the southwest corner of the state. It began in 1814 when George Rapp and a group of German Lutherans moved from Pennsylvania to build a utopian community on the banks of the Wabash River.
Ten years later they returned to Pennsylvania and sold their community to a wealthy industrialist, Robert Owen, who wanted to build his own utopian community based upon science and reason. His efforts failed two years later.
Although the two 19th-Century utopian communities did not last, a sense of utopia still prevails in New Harmony. Yes, there are historical buildings. But of greater importance is the continuing presence of peace and tranquility.
Here is what Petey and I discovered when we wandered around New Harmony on a perfect day in early May.
We parked our car just outside of New Harmony’s famous roofless church that was designed by noted architect Phillip Johnson in 1960 and started our walk. We’ll get back to the church later.
Our walk took us down a gravel path toward the Wabash River. We ran into this statue and many other interesting items along the way.
As we continued walking, the only sounds, other than our footsteps, were of birds chirping and squirrels chattering. And every tree seemed to have a bright red cardinal going about its business. There were even sycamores growing on the banks of the Wabash. You may recall that sycamores are prominently featured in the 19th-Century song (and the official song of the State of Indiana), On the Banks of the Wabash – Far Away.
In many places the Wabash was overflowing its banks with spring floods.
We soon came upon a small chapel dedicated to Francis of Assisi.
Overlooking the chapel was this statue of St. Francis.
There were more statues and quiet places as we continued.
We then turned on another path that took us back toward town and other peaceful places.
This eventually brought us to Paul Tillich park. Paul Tillich was a 20th-Century existentialist theologian and intellectual. His ashes were placed here after his death in 1965.
As you can see this is not a kids park. Instead it is a place for quiet walking and contemplation. The park brought us back to the roofless church with plenty of more walking to do.
Everything within the walls is the church. The roofed structure in front of us is the alter.
To either side there are gathering areas and quiet places to sit.
Throughout New Harmony, you’ll find various meditations. This one is posted inside the church.
This meditation by Thomas Merton is outside the church.
This sculpture, too, is just outside the church.
When we left the church, we were in the historic area with its carefully restored buildings.
New Harmony has even built a wonderful visitor’s center, designed by noted architect Richard Meier (he designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles) just outside the historic area. Petey and I did not make it to the visitor’s center on this trip.
Our wandering adventure did not end in the historic area. There was still more for us to discover. One of them was this relatively new labyrinth based on the one on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France.
The little park with the labyrinth is next to the cemetery of the original utopian community. If you look beyond the brick wall, you might notice that there are no headstones or any other type of marker in the cemetery. You might notice a bump or two in the cemetery. They are old Indian burial mounds from several hundred years ago.
This is the actual labyrinth. You notice the visitors center off in the back.
New Harmony has another labyrinth a pleasant walk away. It is a reconstruction of the one built by the original utopian community and is made of hedges.
I wish I could have taken this picture from a tall ladder so I could better show the concentric rings within the hedges.
But like any labyrinth, you follow the path that is presented to you.
You follow the path until you reach the center, and then you follow the same path back out.
The theme and symbol of the labyrinth is carried throughout the community.
I wish there was time to show everything that New Harmony has to offer. But you have to draw the line somewhere. Trust me that there is more. But I do want to show one more outstanding contemplative garden and sitting area.
Isn’t this a great bench.
And this one too.
I hope you agree with me that New Harmony is a very special place, and if your travels take you across southern Indiana, you won’t regret making a detour to visit it.