Heading Logo


Kaleidoscope: An enjoyable visit to charming old towns of Harmony and Saxonburg

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published: July 5, 2017 1:00 AM
  • 1 of 5 Photos | View More Photos

Many Aurorans are familiar with the small town of Zoar in northern Tuscarawas County. It was a communal town settled by German Separatists, and it is celebrating its bicentennial this year. Many of its original homes still stand.

On my trip to Butler County, Pa. in May, I discovered a similar type community called Harmony. It is on the border of Butler and Beaver counties and has a population of about 900. It is adjacent to Zelienople.

Prior to its founding in 1804 by George Rapp and the Harmony Society of German Lutheran Separatists, it was a Delaware Indian village called Murdering Town. Its 9,000 acres were resettled in 1815 by Mennonites.

But the Mennonites were farmers and not prepared to take over a town. Money was hard to come by, so people of other faiths moved to Harmony and, although small, the town thrived.

In the 1890s, an oil boom took place there, and by 1900 the Butler County centennial souvenir book noted "The Harmony of today is but little changed from its original form."

[Article continues below]

In the early 1900s, the town became a tourist attraction after the Pittsburg, Harmony, Butler & New Castle Railway's interurban line brought in residents from Pittsburgh. In the 1980s, I-79 was built past the town.

The Harmony Historic District includes about 50 buildings and the Harmonist and Mennonite cemeteries. The Harmonist burial ground features a huge revolving stone gate at its entrance.

I enjoyed walking through the quaint village, which boasts the Harmony Museum (circa 1809) on its square. The museum is one of several properties owned by Historic Harmony Inc., which was founded in 1943.

The museum features displays about George Washington's 1753 mission in the area, the Harmonists, Mennonites and the Ball collection of sporting rifles by 19th century Harmony gunsmith Charles Flowers.

Some of the other historic buildings are the Mennonite Meetinghouse (1825), Mercer Street Log House, Wagner House duplex, Ziegler Log House, Ziegler-Wise Barn (1805), Grace Church of Harmony (oldest church in continuous use in the county), Harmony Borough Hall (built as the Harmony school in 1882) and one-room Shantz School.

[Article continues below]

Then there is the Harmony Inn, originally the residence of Austin Pearce, a banker, mill operator and railroad executive who built it in 1856. A member of the Ziegler family, a descendant of the Mennonites, bought and renovated it into a hotel and saloon, which became one of the earliest such licensed establishments in Butler County.

The Harmony Inn went through several owners until current owners Bob and Jodi McCafferty bought it in 2013. They also own North Country Brewing Co. in Slippery Rock. The inn has indoor and outdoor seating for meals and beverages, and features some of North Country's brews. I enjoyed one on the patio.

The building is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young handicapped girl, who has been seen limping around the restaurant.

 

ABOUT SAXONBURG

About 10 miles south of Butler and 10 miles east of Harmony is a really neat community called Saxonburg, which also has a storied past thanks to the Roebling family. Main Street features 32 buildings that are over 100 years old and 10 which are over 150.

John A. Roebling was a German immigrant, who with his brother Karl, founded Saxonburg in 1832. The town, with a population of about 1,500, is celebrating its 185th year this summer.

Roebling's work surveying the Pennsylvania Railroad's Philadelphia to Pittsburgh route over the Allegheny Mountains led to his famous invention -- wire rope -- which he made in his Saxonburg workshop. The small building still exists as an attraction in Roebling Park.

Wire rope revolutionized the art of bridge building, and some of the Roebling family's famous creations are the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, Roebling Bridge over the Ohio River connecting Cincinnati and Covington, Ky. and a long railroad bridge over the Niagara River.

John Roebling died in 1869. He is buried in Trenton, N.J.

In addition to Roebling's workshop, Roebling Park is home to the Saxonburg Museum/Cooper Hall. It houses exhibits relating to the Roeblings, plus historic communications equipment, blacksmith tools and has general store and laundry displays.

A small replica of the Brooklyn Bridge beside the workshop, and a gazebo, also are found in the park.

While I was photographing the historic Saxonburg Memorial Church, a fellow came out of his nearby house and told me his house was built in the 1890s by Roebling's son.

The church is a magnificent structure, not big, but it catches one's eye as Main Street deadends into it. Its lower floor is topped in front by a wide tower, which in turn is topped by a smaller cupola with a clock.

On beautiful Main Street stands the Hotel Saxonburg, built in 1832. It formerly was called the Vogley House and Union Hotel. Its current owner took it over in 2010.

The hotel features five sleeping rooms, and there is a large "common room" with a Robbins table, which when closed, forms a perfect square with all six leaves hidden in the table. When open, it seats 12. The room has a large pot belly stove with nickel-plated trim.

The building also has a quaint dining room and a really neat old-fashioned bar, where I enjoyed a cold brew. The woodwork which forms the bar and the area behind the bar reportedly goes back many decades.

I am itching to travel back to Saxonburg sometime and stay a night in the charming hotel.

Saxonburg was the site of a leading-edge 450 MeV proton synchrocyclotron, which was built in 1946 at the Nuclear Research Center created by some physics professors at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh. The research program flourished into the mid 1970s, when the then-obsolete accelerator was dismantled.

A terrible tragedy befell the people of Saxonburg on Dec. 4, 1980, when Police Officer Gregory Adams allegedly was murdered by Donald Webb. The latter was on the FBI's most wanted list longer than any other fugitive since the list's creation in 1950, but was removed in March 2007 after he was never captured.

In addition to Roebling, some other famous people who came from Butler County are Barbara Feldon (Agent 99 on the TV series "Get Smart"), Notre Dame All-American quarterback Terry Hanratty, Poison lead singer Bret Michaels, Major League Baseball umpire Ed Vargo, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and William Perry, who was secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton.

 

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189


Rate this article

Do you want to leave a comment?   Please Log In or Register to comment.