Have you ever wondered what life was like in Indiana in the 1800s? Have you thought about what kinds of jobs Hoosiers had and how communities worked and thrived?
In April, Historic New Harmony answered these questions for schoolchildren and their families, allowing them to experience life in southern Indiana in the early 19th century through the use of historic interpreters and period artisans.
With help from an Action Grant from Indiana Humanities, Historic New Harmony presented its 35th annual Heritage Artisans Days, welcoming back crowd favorites like a Johnny Appleseed reenactor and a paper marbler, and introducing new characters like a ship captain who taught kids about travel, trade and early warfare.
“With over 2,400 visitors, this year’s festival was a great success,” said Claire Eagle, community engagement manager at Historic New Harmony.
The three-day event immersed both children and adults in hands-on activities and reenactments of local history.
Claudie Parsons, a broom maker at Heritage Artisans Days, has been coming to the festival for the past nine years.
Parsons originally learned how to make brooms in New Harmony and believes practicing traditional crafts like broom making can impact the ways generations think about the past and help them think critically about the future.
“If our younger generations think about how things used to be done and how people figured out how to make things, they too will be able to make decisions based on their knowledge. And that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘making things,’ but being able to think on the things they’ve learned that will help them figure out difficult life situations,” Parsons said.
John and Beth Lovin have been demonstrating traditional blacksmithing at the New Harmony event for the past two years. Beth also makes baskets and displays rag dolls, soaps and various other traditional crafts at the festival.
“We teach the students that the pioneers that built New Harmony were just like us—that they, like us, lived on the cutting edge of technology for their time. They built the future just like us,” said John Lovin.
Not only do the children learn about the intricacies of craftsmanship in the early 19th century, they also learn the unique cultural identity of Indiana.
Historic New Harmony preserves the town’s utopian legacy by inspiring innovation and progressive thought, especially through programs like Heritage Artisans Days. The town was home to two efforts to create a utopian society in the early 1800s.
It began in 1814 as a spiritual sanctuary and commercial center for a religious group called the Rappites. Then in 1824, industrialist Robert Owen purchased the town and established a communal living space for international scientists, scholars and educators, deeply incorporating humanities in the community. Although both utopian efforts failed, New Harmony’s residents remained influential in the development of Indiana, and the town continues to tell its transformational story.
Along with being an interactive experience for children of all school ages, the Heritage Artisans Days program applies school history standards that trace the historical people, places and movements that assisted the development of Indiana.
In learning the historical significance of the New Harmony community and the effect it had on the development of the state, guests visiting the Heritage Artisans days program better understand the traditions and the importance of preserving the town, which retains about 30 buildings from its early years as a utopian outpost.