Those of you who have had the pleasure of visiting New Harmony, Indiana and those of us privileged to live there know its Anglo-Saxon origins include a huge debt to Robert Owen of New Lanark, Scotland. Owen made his fortune milling textiles and yarn in New Lanark and used a great deal of his money to buy New Harmony from the German Lutheran community led by Father George Rapp. Owen based his dream for mankind on the non-religious philosophies of the Enlightenment. The influences of both the Rappites and Owenites have been deeply woven into the two unique experiments that resulted in today’s New Harmony.
Peg and I were somewhat aware of Robert Owen and his progressive policies on fair treatment for his employees in the New Lanark mills. But frankly, I had always thought the true Owen visionary was Robert’s son, Robert Dale Owen, who was a United States Congressman, a delegate to Indiana’s 1850-1852 Constitutional Convention and a passionate advocate for Women’s Rights and the abolition of slavery. Of course, Robert Dale was a visionary but Peg and I discovered when we visited New Lanark, Scotland two weeks ago that the origin of the son’s great passions was from the father.
All of Robert Owen’s children were given the middle name of “Dale” which was their mother’s maiden name. Caroline nee Dale Owen’s father, David Dale, was himself an innovator in methods of textile production. Robert Owen married the boss’s daughter and eventually owned controlling interest in the New Lanark mills which continue to produce great quantities of yarn today.
Some of you know Peg is an excellent knitter whose felted hats, mittens, purses and other creations are much sought after. Of course, she can only create one item at a time and her efforts to teach me “knit” from “purl” and “cast off” have been a great disappointment to her. However, New Lanark with its cornucopia of colors and textures was, forgive me Robert, heavenly. The manager of the gift shop in New Lanark was so impressed and excited by the photos of Peg’s creations Peg showed her she wants Peg to make items for the shop. We will soon be receiving a huge shipment of New Lanark yarn in New Harmony.
It also made us feel as if we were returning to New Lanark instead of visiting it for the first time when we were housed in “The New Harmony Suite” at the New Lanark Hotel. It was marvelous and felt like home.
When Peg and I toured the beautiful areas of New Lanark it was an almost mystical feeling. New Lanark is certainly different from New Harmony but it felt comfortable and somehow reassuring. New Lanark’s buildings reminded us of the dormitories, Granary and other structures in New Harmony. The River Clyde that powered David Dale’s original mill rushes through the town and is integral to its character much as the Wabash River is to New Harmony. But the connections between the two small towns, both of which have produced much original thought, are much more direct and concrete than merely emotional.
Robert and Caroline Owen’s large brick home is right beside the working factory. When Peg and I entered the home it felt much as the brick homes in New Harmony today. But it was the full New Harmony homage set out in the basement that showed without need for explanation the almost two hundred years of cultural intertwining between New Lanark, Scotland and New Harmony, Indiana. The numerous documents and photographs concerning New Harmony and especially the continuously running video portrayal of the contributions back and forth made Peg and me feel as if we had just sat down for coffee with our friends at Sara’s Harmony Way coffee shop in New Harmony.
So it appears to Peg and me and to other friends of ours from New Harmony, such as Nathan and Jeanne Maudlin who have also been to New Lanark and strongly recommended we put it on our Scotland vacation itinerary, that Thomas Wolfe’s melancholy lament may be wrong. Perhaps “you can go home again” if you are from New Harmony and go to New Lanark.