There is a lot of unique history to be found in Harmony, PA, from the homes that once housed Harmonist Society members to the society’s original cemetery—complete with revolving stone door—that still stands at the edge of town. Once a thriving communal settlement, the area has a long history of neighbors working together to create an idyllic place to live and work—a tenet that survives to this day.
“Harmony is just an incredible town—it’s such a tight-knit community,” said Samuel Hopkins, owner of H.H. Kingston, a revitalization company that has purchased and renovated a number of properties in Harmony. “Everyone is so nice; they wave at you when they see you on the street.”
Hopkins and his wife moved to Harmony in 2017 and have since played a major role in the reconstruction of a number of historic buildings, from residential homes turned to retail space to commercial buildings.
“Our goal is to bring businesses back to historic Harmony and to encourage more tourism,” said Hopkins, adding that other than a few specialized contractors, the company only hires people who are based in Zelienople and Harmony because they want to employee individuals that are invested in the area.
One of Hopkins’ renovated buildings is the new home of the Little Green Bookstore, which is located on Main Street. “I wanted to attract something interesting to the area, a place that people would come here to visit,” he said of the business that opened this past February. “While big bookstores are a dying breed, little ones do pretty well, partly because of nostalgia. And they are in a perfect location, two doors down from the coffee shop.”
Christine Border, who opened the Little Green Bookstore with her sister, Lisa Sico, has been pleased with their decision to locate in Harmony.
“We like the historic, quaint town and the community feel, and we were really impressed with the other business owners here and their great camaraderie,” said Border. “We also like that we get all different kinds of customers from locals to tourists, to people on social media looking for independent bookstores.”
Hopkins also historically renovated one of the original 1807 Harmonist Society homes on Main Street, which now houses the Neff Haus Ice Cream Shop. “People come from as far as an hour away to enjoy inexpensive ice cream treats as well as the colorful and whimsical nature of the shop,” said Hopkins of the store that opened in July. He also created a bike kiosk system that visitors can use to rent a bike through a phone app to make it even easier to roam around town.
“Families especially love these low-cost amenities; they give them a reason to come to Harmony,” he said. “They can walk around eating ice cream, then ride a bike to burn it off!”
He adds that in the next year, he hopes to have inner tubes that people can buy to take to the boat launch, creating an Ohiopyle-type feeling for the area.
Hopkins is currently in the process of creating Galley Hill Station, which will include retail space and a restaurant. “There was a big abandoned house at the entrance to Harmony, and it couldn’t be saved,” he said. “So I bought it and tore it down, and now we’re going to put a grand building there.
“Through my research, I learned that the Harmony Short Line Railroad used to come through the home’s backyard, so I thought it would be a cool place to put stores and a restaurant in a building that looks like a train station—it’s going to be the most unique building in town.”
Dennis and MJ McCurdy bought the Bottlebrush Gallery & Center for the Arts in 2011 and have since expanded it to include a house concert series, a small antiques and collectibles shop on the second floor, and a vintage vinyl records shop, Last Dog Records. The gallery, located in one of the original homesteads, focuses on art made by artists who live within 50 miles of town.
“We carry the work of 85 artists—the youngest is 16, and the oldest is 94,” said MJ McCurdy. “We carry pottery, weaving, paintings, some really fun mixed media, jewelry—just about everything. There’s a great selection.”
McCurdy has also been teaching art classes for the past 10 years for children, teens and adults, and she credits the supportive community for their success.
“We work together; we all find ways to connect and collaborate with each other on festivals and other events,” she explained. “We are all friends here. For example, there are three brewing companies in Harmony—the Harmony Inn, ShuBrew and Union Brothers Brewing—and they all get along fine; they work together to make sure that people have great options when they come for food or beer.”
She adds that Harmony is also known for its many festivals that include the Sleepy Hollow Festival in October, the annual German Christmas market, WeihnachtsMarkt, in November, and the Silvester New Year’s Eve celebration in December.
“All of the businesses pull together to make it a success; we have each other’s backs,” she said. “It’s amazing how much can happen in a town of 900 people when everyone works together.”
For those who like history, the Harmony Museum provides a look at the region’s past 250 years, from its start as a Lenape (Delaware) Indian settlement to its founding by “Father” George Rapp and the Harmonists from Germany, to its transition to a Mennonite community. Weaver’s Cabin, which is located in a restored log cabin on Mercer Street, provides an opportunity for visitors to learn the art of weaving and to take home the fruit of their labors.
“The weavers are a group of women who work on traditional looms. Their ‘Make and Take’ program teaches visitors how to make a rug or scarf that they can keep,” said McCurdy. “It’s a great way to experience the traditional arts that Harmony was known for.
Lisa Krack, owner of Darn Yarn Harmony, was attracted to the area for its time-honored feel. “I moved here because I needed more space, and it was a nice little community; I like being located in a small, historic town,” she said.
Her store, which carries American-made, eco-friendly, fair-trade yarn and other items for knitters, crocheters, spinners and weavers, has a faithful local following and also attracts a lot of travelers passing through.
“Harmony is a great place for people looking for something to do, especially since it’s only about a half-hour from Pittsburgh” said McCurdy. “You can stop and have lunch at the Harmony Inn, go to Weaver’s Cabin and do a Make and Take, visit the year-round Christmas shop in the gallery and then go upstairs to Last Dog Records, eat some ice cream, and then go hiking or biking or out to the boat launch. It’s really amazing what we have going on here—that’s why people who come here come back.”